Luis Atilano Key to Washington Nationals Contending in NL East

| by Baseball In-Depth

It was a good week for the Nationals, and they're feeling it (Washington Post)

"It's just contagious; winning creates more winning," relief pitcher Tyler Clippard said. "Right now we're getting a taste of that. I know we're all pleased with that, and hopefully we can continue to do that."

On Wednesday, the Nationals received another solid performance from a bullpen that has a 0.77 ERA in the last eight games, and they hit two home runs to win their second in a row against the Cubs (10-12) before a crowd of 36,660.

"Everybody wants the ball in their hand," Clippard said. "Everybody wants to make the next great play. Everyone wants to make the next big hit."

A big part of the recent turnaround is that rookie Luis Atilano replaced the injured Jason Marquis and has had 2 great starts.  Marquis was awful, going 0-3 with a 20.52 ERA over 3 starts, including allowing 7 ER without getting an out on April 18th (think he might be spending some time in the bullpen when he comes back, especially with Stephen Strasburg stampeding through the minors).  Atilano is 2-0 with an 2.25 ERA through his first 2 ML starts.
It was a long road to the ML for Atilano, who was drafted in the first round of the 2003 draft by the Braves, and was traded to the Nationals in August 2006 for Daryle Ward.  With a few exceptions, he didn't begin pitching well in the minors until the last few years.  He's mainly a control pitcher, not striking out a lot of hitters, usually averaging under 5 K/9 in the minors (until his 2 starts at AAA this year, where he was above 7 K/9), and sure enough, he only had 1 strikeout in each of his first two ML starts. 
After 2 starts, he's suddenly an important part of the Nationals rotation.  Their other starters (Olsen, Stammen, Lannan, Hernandez) have been inconsistent throughout their careers, and that will probably continue.  The fact that he pitched so well right out of the gate, and after toiling in the minors for 7 years, speaks well of Atilano, but how he'll pitch over the next few months is hard to predict.  If he keeps it up, though, the Nationals might have another month over .500 and continue to shock the baseball world.