Villanueva's first '09 start a rocky one

Villanueva's first '09 start a rocky one

MILWAUKEE -- Early Monday afternoon, Brewers manager Ken Macha was heavily questioned for picking Carlos Villanueva to start instead of Tim Dillard on Tuesday.

Once the game began and each got their crack at the Nationals, neither pitcher impressed.

Villanueva gave up the hits, Dillard gave up the walks, and both Brewers pitchers gave up runs, as Washington rocked Milwaukee's pitching staff for the second straight night, beating the Crew, 8-3, on Tuesday night at Miller Park.

"Just kind of a mixed bag," Macha said of the two pitching performances.

Prior to the game, Macha said that in a perfect world, he hoped to get four innings out of Villanueva, who earned the spot-start in place of injured right-hander Dave Bush.

Villanueva gave up one run -- a lead-off homer by Nyjer Morgan on the second pitch of the game -- in the first three innings, but the fourth inning turned out to be the trickiest.

Adam Dunn led off the inning with a 445-foot solo homer that bounced on the right-field concourse before landing in the Miller Park parking lot, and Josh Willingham and Willie Harris followed with back-to-back singles.

Alberto Gonzalez popped out for the inning's first out, then Wil Nieves hit a soft line drive to right field. Milwaukee's Corey Hart dove and caught the ball, but the ball came out of his glove when he hit the ground.

"I kind of snow-coned it, rolled over and it popped out of my glove," Hart said of the play. "Anytime you leave your feet, it's hit or miss."

Harris, who was on first, was going to second at the crack of the bat. If Hart would have been able to hold on, he would have doubled-off Harris to end the inning.

Instead, Willingham scored on the play and Morgan hit a two-run single two batters later to put Washington up, 5-1.

"If Corey comes up with that ball ... he made a great effort. He dove and I saw a runner take off and that would have been the end of the inning, but that's just the way it goes," Villanueva said. "After that they got me again and it turned out to be a rough inning."

Dillard, who was recalled from Triple-A Nashville on Sunday and was assumed by many -- Villanueva included -- to get Tuesday's start, came on in relief of Villanueva in the fifth inning. After three shutout innings, his outing was spoiled by his last frame, as well.

Dillard got himself into a jam in both the fifth and sixth innings -- loading the bases with one out in the fifth -- but escaped both frames thanks to two double plays. He also got out of the seventh unscathed after intentionally walking Dunn to put two on and one out, but his luck finally ended in the eighth.

Nieves walked and pinch-hitter Ronnie Belliard singled to center before Cristian Guzman hit a three-run homer to ice the game.

Villanueva (2-8) took the loss in his first start since May 18, 2008, giving up five runs on eight hits. Dillard allowed three runs on four hits in four innings, also walking five. Of Dillard's 63 pitches, 31 were balls.

"I felt good," Dillad said. "I was trying to throw strikes but I was just missing. It doesn't help anything when you walk guys. I was missing down, and if you're going to miss, that's where you want to go. When they aren't swinging at it, that's when you have to throw strikes. I kept thinking, 'Well, maybe I'll get a call,' or, 'Maybe they'll swing at it.' But they're big league hitters and they're better than that."

While Villanueva and Dillard were dealing with their respective troubles, Balester (1-1) was handling the Brewers with relative ease.

The right-hander, making just his second start of the season, held the Brewers to two runs -- an RBI single by J.J. Hardy in the second inning and a solo homer by Ryan Braun in the sixth -- on five hits in six strong innings.

In all, the Brewers managed seven hits, including three by Hardy and two by Braun.

"I tried to go out there and throw strikes," Balester said. "I located the ball good, used my off-speed pitches effectively and let the players get themselves out."

The Nationals have hit six home runs in the past two games, which have accounted for 14 runs. The win is also Washington's fourth straight, which matches the team's longest streak of the season.

Before Tuesday's game, Macha said Brewers general manager Doug Melvin made a surprise visit to Macha's office after Monday's 14-6 loss, telling him and the coaches to keep their chins up.

After Tuesday's loss -- the team's third straight, during which they've been outscored, 32-11 -- Macha said he's been through worse droughts and remained adamant that the team is going to get through it together.

"Our starting rotation has some holes, so to speak," Macha said. "With that being said, tomorrow we've got [Manny Parra] out there pitching. I'm looking forward to his outing.

"We've got to be positive about coming in tomorrow and trying to get this thing back on track. And we have [Yovani Gallardo] going on Thursday, so I'm looking forward to the next couple of days."

Cash Kruth is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.