Nationals-Diamondbacks Preview

The Arizona Diamondbacks are one of the biggest surprises this

season, and pitching is a major reason.

Ian Kennedy is emerging as a vital contributor.

Kennedy looks to keep the Diamondbacks rolling while setting a

franchise record by shutting down the Washington Nationals for a

third consecutive meeting Sunday.

Arizona (33-26) finished at the bottom of the NL West in each of

the last two seasons, but the club is the surprise division leader

with a one-half game advantage on San Francisco, the reigning World

Series champion.

The Diamondbacks have vaulted to the top of the West due to an

18-4 run that includes a 3.08 ERA.

That stellar pitching has been on display in this four-game

series, as Arizona has won the last two games via shutouts after

falling 6-1 in the opener Thursday. Joe Saunders, David Hernandez

and J.J. Putz held the Nationals (25-33) to four hits in Saturday’s

2-0 victory.

“It’s huge when they’re picking us up when we’re not getting a

lot of offense,” said shortstop Stephen Drew, who has two hits and

four RBIs in the last two games. “At the same time, we’re getting

timely hitting with the RBIs.”

Kennedy (6-2, 3.16 ERA) will try to continue the Diamondbacks’

impressive run as the team seeks a franchise-record third

consecutive shutout. It would be the first time Washington has been

blanked in three straight contests since April 13-15, 2004, when

they were the Montreal Expos.

Kennedy is a strong candidate to shut down the Nationals again

since he’s 5-1 with a 2.15 ERA over his last nine starts. However,

that defeat came in his latest trip to the mound Tuesday, when he

allowed three runs in five innings of a 5-2 loss to Florida.

The right-hander is also 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA in two starts

versus the Nationals.

Washington has dropped 10 of 12 on the road while batting .190

in those defeats and going 8 for 66 with runners in scoring

position. The team’s .231 season average is among the lowest in

baseball and has undermined the staff’s 3.73 ERA, an improvement

from last seasons’ 4.13.

“To me, it’s about the good pitching in general – we are not

winning ballgames when we pitched so well,” manager Jim Riggleman

said. “Everybody feels that on the club. Myself right on down to

the coaches and player all feel terrible about the way we have

squandered some chances to win ballgames when we pitch this

well.”

Riggleman turns to Jason Marquis (6-2, 4.13), who’s received

more run support on average than any pitcher in the NL at 6.98.

The right-hander got plenty of backing in Tuesday’s 10-2 win

over Philadelphia, as he allowed two runs and eight hits in 6 1-3

innings.

“Any time runs are on the board, you can relax a little bit,”

Marquis said. “It allows those mistakes not to be as noticed.”

Marquis is 0-4 with a 4.78 ERA in seven starts at Arizona, and

0-4 with a 7.86 ERA in the last five overall against the

Diamondbacks.