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WSH@SD: Richard gives the Padres a quality start

SAN DIEGO -- When he was nearly finished giving an appraisal of his performance on Tuesday, Padres pitcher Clayton Richard finished with a succinct one-liner that spoke volumes for the game as well as the team's performance thus far.

"It was a tough one," Richard said.

In a game that was scoreless until the seventh inning, the Padres dropped a 3-1 decision to the Nationals before a crowd of 16,599 at Petco Park, as their record in this young season fell to 5-13.

More than that, though, the Padres are now 1-9 in games decided by two or fewer runs.

In 2010, when the Padres won 90 games, these were the types of games they seemingly always won. In 2011, when they won 71 games, the Padres still won 20 games that were decided by two runs. Not this season, though, as they've been undermined by porous defense and lack of consistent hitting.

On Tuesday, the Padres ran into a hot team with a pitcher in Gio Gonzalez (2-0) who kept the Padres off-balance for six scoreless innings. That ran the Nationals' streak of consecutive shutout innings by their starting pitchers to 22.

"You saw a good, live fastball and a good hard breaking ball," Padres manager Bud Black said of Gonzalez. "And his changeup was better than advertised. He pitches aggressively."

Black had similar good things to say about Richard, who bounced back from one of his worst starts since being traded to the Padres in 2009.

Five days ago against the Rockies, Richard allowed eight runs on 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings. Between that start at Coors Field and this one, Richard worked closely with his pitching coach, Darren Balsley, on a mechanical fix that would allow him to stay more on top of the ball.

Richard said staying on top of the ball more with his hand would help with command and movement of all of his pitches. It certainly worked Tuesday, as the left-hander retired 11 consecutive hitters between the first and fourth innings.

"I think we made some adjustments that needed to be made," Richard said. "When you're on the side of the ball, bad things happen."

"I thought his velocity was up and the movement of his pitches was outstanding," Black said of Richard, who allowed two runs on three hits, with five walks (two intentional) and six strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings.

"If Clayton can repeat that arm slot, I think you'll see more games like that."

In the sixth inning, with two outs and a runner on first base, Richard was called for a balk. Black argued and was eventually ejected by plate umpire Lance Barrett. Richard intentionally walked Jayson Werth, giving the left-hander another shot at LaRoche. This time he struck him out, and he pumped his left arm as he walked off the mound.

"In my opinion, it didn't look like a balk," said Black, who earned his second ejection of the season.

The Nationals got to Richard for two runs in the seventh inning when Nady led off with a double and Wilson Ramos walked. A sacrifice bunt by Steve Lombardozzi moved the runners up, setting up pinch-hitter Chad Tracy's two-run single for a 2-0 lead.

The Padres got a run in the seventh inning after Gonzalez was gone when Cameron Maybin walked and moved to second base on Orlando Hudson's single. Two batters later, Andy Parrino singled to center field, which allowed Maybin to score when Werth bobbled the ball.

The Padres had a runner on third with one out, but reliever Tyler Clippard got pinch-hitter Mark Kotsay to pop out to end a 12-pitch at-bat, then got Chris Denorfia to ground out to end the inning.

The Nationals (13-4) added an unearned run in the ninth inning when right fielder Will Venable was charged with an error. It was the second error of the game for the Padres, who lead the Major Leagues with 21.

The strong pitching performance came as no surprise to Gonzalez, who was followed by four relievers. The Nationals now have a team ERA of 2.21 after 17 games. For Gonzalez, he was just trying to do his part to keep up.

"I tried to stay focused," Gonzalez said. "That's a great-hitting team and I wanted to do my best to at least stay in the game as much as possible. There were times where I got myself into trouble, but the defense helped me get out of it."

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