Lowe, Dodgers blank Nationals

Lowe, Dodgers blank Nationals

WASHINGTON -- It's fine to focus on pitching, especially during a shutout-a-thon, but careful what you say about the Dodgers' offense, especially around Russell Martin.

After catching a shutout for the second consecutive night, Martin was barely asked about the two-run homer he slugged in support of Derek Lowe's 5-0 win over the Nationals on Wednesday night. When the questioning implied that the Dodgers can't be an elite team with a "weak" offense, Martin politely dissented.

"If you say it like that, yeah, I'm part of that offense, so I take it a little personally," he said. "It's not just our pitching that's winning games. Pitching has held us together this year, but we've got guys that have hit for a lot of years. I don't think that's a problem here. I've got lot of confidence in our hitters. We're going to be OK.

"People can say whatever they want, but we're a good hitting team. We don't have that one big power hitter -- a [Albert] Pujols or a Ryan Howard -- but we've got guys who can hit 20 homers. Add them up and we've got some power."

Martin's fourth homer of the year cleared the center-field fence. He hit 10 last year while spending the first month of the season in the Minor Leagues.

"The most I've ever hit are 15, but I've got the power to hit home runs," Martin said. "It's an approach. I'm sure I could hit more, but my average (.303) would drop more. It's just hitting them when you need to."

Luis Gonzalez, whose six home runs are second to Jeff Kent's eight, had a pair of hits and scored the Dodgers' first run.

"We're starting to swing the bats well throughout the lineup," Gonzalez said. "Everybody critiques about our power outage, but we have guys that put the ball in play and make things happen. Our two leadoff hitters on top create havoc for the other team and open holes for the rest of us hitters. We have professional hitters up and down. When they put this team together, they knew what they were getting. We may not look like superstars, but we grind it out and play hard."

Of course, there's always the pitching. Lowe allowed three singles over seven innings, and the only Nationals baserunner to reach second base did so on an error. Following Brad Penny's 10-0 victory the previous night, Lowe and relievers Joe Beimel and Rudy Seanez pitched the Dodgers to consecutive shutouts for the first time in exactly three years (May 29-30 against Arizona).

Penny and Lowe have not been scored upon in each of their last two starts covering 26 1/3 innings. Randy Wolf has allowed two runs in his last two starts (13 innings). Jason Schmidt could return from the disabled list in a week to 10 days, further strengthening the rotation.

Lowe came away from this a .500 pitcher (5-5), and talk about a deceptive record. In his five losses, the Dodgers have scored only seven runs. Now in his five wins, he's allowed only six earned runs. He has eight quality starts in 12 outings and his ERA is down to 3.32. He's allowed only two home runs compared to 14 last year.

Despite that, Lowe said this one was "a struggle." He walked two, but went deep enough in counts to throw 112 pitches.

"I've pitched better this year and not gotten as good results," Lowe said. "The defense played extremely well, Nomar [Garciaparra] made four or five tremendous plays. Russell stayed with me and did a good job of coaxing me through it. Early on, my stuff wasn't there and I had to grind it out. The outs weren't coming easy.

"In games like this, it's good that it was zero-zero for so long [through four innings] because it made me concentrate harder on every single pitch. As the game went on, it seemed to get better. The offense gave me a big lift with the four runs."

Following Penny's 2-for-2 night at the plate, Lowe also got involved in the offense with a single and a pair of walks, prolonging the two-run fifth inning with one of them off Mike Bacsik and starting the seventh-inning rally with the other, then scoring on Garciaparra's single off the foot of pitcher Saul Rivera.

"There's a lot of pressure on Mark tomorrow. Hopefully he can get his first hit of the year," Lowe said of Thursday night starter Mark Hendrickson.

Garciaparra, whose home run drought reached 146 at-bats, fielded five balls hit his way, robbing Nook Logan of extra bases in the second inning and likely saving the shutout.

So what if the Dodgers cannot trade for a power hitter between now and the trade deadline? Will it be enough to load up on pitching and create runs any which way?

"Absolutely," said Lowe. "It's National League baseball, pitching and defense wins. And last year, Penny didn't start a game in the playoffs. Look at the way he's pitching, who would want to face him? If he starts twice in a best-of-five series, I'd take my chances with that."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.