The clinic that Orioles right-hander Freddy Garcia put on Thursday night against the Washington Nationals wasn't one in power pitching, but it was effective nonetheless.
After the Orioles and Nationals combined for 14 homers the previous two nights, the 36-year-old Garcia dominated Thursday's final meeting between the teams, a game that became an unlikely pitcher's duel.
Anchored by Garcia's eight scoreless innings, the Orioles beat the Nationals, 2-0, in front of an announced 30,655 at Camden Yards.
The Orioles (30-24), who had the same record last season after 54 games, won three of their four games against the beltway-rival Nationals (27-27), including both at Camden Yards.
Closer Jim Johnson tallied his second save in as many nights, and his 17th of the season, with a perfect ninth inning.
“Taking three out of four from anybody is fun, no matter who it is,” Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis said. “They've got a great ballclub over there. We know that. It was big to win the series. … [Garcia] was a bulldog out there. He gave us eight innings and then Jim Johnson. That's how a baseball game is supposed to be played.”
For Garcia, a 14-year major league veteran, it was the first time he's thrown eighth shutout innings in seven seasons. He did it for the Chicago White Sox against the Detroit Tigers on Sept. 19, 2006.
Garcia was a much different pitcher back then, anchoring his repertoire around a mid 90s fastball. After shoulder surgery in 2007, Garcia has needed to rely on pinpoint control and a bevy of breaking pitches to win games.
That's exactly what he did Thursday night as the Orioles recorded their third shutout of the season, their first since May 12 against the Minnesota Twins.
“It felt good to go out there and perform the way I did,” said Garcia, who held the Nationals to just three hits with six strikeouts and no walks. “Throw a lot of strikes, don't walk anybody. The guys made good plays, and we scored when we needed. I just made some good pitches. They'd been hitting the ball real good last couple days. It's hot here in Baltimore and the ball flies, so you got to keep it down.”
Armed with a four-seam fastball and sinker that didn't surpass 88 mph — and combining that with a splitter, slider, curveball combo that dipped as low as 71 mph — Garcia kept the Nationals off-balance.
“More's not always better,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Freddy's margin for error isn't near what guys who have that pure stuff's margin for error is. When Tommy [Hunter's] throwing the ball 99, 100 [mph], he might miss a spot here and there and get away with it. Freddy knows he can't do that. But he knows himself.”
Garcia's splitter was especially effective Thursday night.
“The split-finger he was throwing, basically like facing R.A. Dickey,” Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond said, referencing the Toronto Blue Jays' knuckleballer. “Obviously R.A. Dickey won the Cy Young, so that's no knock against Freddy. But I think the humidity and the tackiness on the ball, his fingers, there's probably a little bit of sweat going on there. That pitch was pretty unbelievable tonight.”
Garcia gave the Orioles just their second quality start in their last eight games, providing needed relief for the bullpen heading into this weekend's three-game set against the Detroit Tigers, the best hitting team in the American League.
“With one of the best offensive teams in baseball coming in here the next three days, you'd like to have some rested people in your bullpen, because you know on the surface you're going to need them,” Showalter said.
In three career starts against the Nationals, Garcia is 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA, allowing just three runs over 17 innings.
Over his past three starts with the Orioles, Garcia — who seemed to be a temporary rotation fill-in after signing a minor league deal at the end of spring training — is 2-0 with a 1.89 ERA, allowing just four earned runs over 19 innings.
Garcia displayed excellent command of the strike zone Thursday and worked ahead in the count, throwing 21 of 27 first-pitch strikes, including nine straight batters to begin the game.
He retired 14 straight batters after Desmond's second-inning single until a two-out single by Roger Bernadina in the sixth. Garcia retired 21 of the final 22 batters he faced.
“He had his ‘A' game today,” said Oriles left fielder Nate McLouth, who turned in his third three-hit game of the season and has his safely in nine of his last 10 games. “He brought it out. He brought out what he could do for this ballclub to help us win. He pitched a hell of a game, had all his pitches right, got ahead most of the batters.”
Garcia was also aided by some fine defensive plays behind him. Markakis ranged into the right-center field gap in the third inning to make a diving catch to rob Denard Span. In the fourth, first baseman Chris Davis snagged a ball down the line off the bat of Adam LaRoche that appeared destined for extra bases. And against Garcia's second-to-last better in the eighth, third baseman Manny Machado made a tough in-between hop off the bat of Kurt Suzuki look routine.
“A lot of good defensive plays behind him,” Showalter said. “When you're throwing those kinds of strikes. ... There wasn't much margin of error for us there, so he couldn't let his guard down."
The Orioles took a 1-0 lead in the third inning on Markakis' two-out double, scoring Ryan Flaherty from second base.
McLouth led of the bottom of the first with a double to the left-center field gap, but after Manny Machado — who is tied for the AL lead with 79 hits — dropped a sacrifice bunt to move McLouth to third, the Orioles stranded him there.
In the bottom of the eighth, after McLouth hit a one-out double, Machado hit his major league-leading 25th double of the season down the left-field line to score McLouth and give the Orioles a 2-0 lead. Machado recorded his 24th multi-hit game of the season.
It was enough to beat Nationals right-hander Dan Haren (4-6), who allowed just two runs on eight hits over 7 1/3 innings.
“You guys weren't expecting a pitchers' duel tonight?” McLouth said. “I was sitting out there thinking the same thing [after Wednesday's slugfest]. But both pitchers threw really, really well tonight. I don't think there was a walk in the game. That shows you, if you throw strikes, what can happen.”