PHOENIX -- After a tough loss on July 20, Arizona ace Brandon Webb's record sat at .500 and the D-backs looked nothing like a playoff team. Three weeks later, Webb has not given up a run and Arizona has flipped the switch in the National League West race. Webb threw his fourth consecutive scoreless appearance, breaking his franchise record with 33 straight scoreless innings, to outduel Washingon's John Lannan, 1-0, Saturday night at Chase Field. Webb yielded five hits and walked his first batter in 18 innings in the seventh.
Webb has performed his magic with the return of his sinker, which he has been throwing more often the past two games. That has led him to lower his pitch count enough to throw back-to-back shutouts, the third time in franchise history a pitcher has accomplished that feat. "Last two games is as good a sinker as we've seen since he's been here," manager Bob Melvin said. "When you're able to do it in different fashions like he does now, you're a guy who's going to be a perennial Cy Young candidate." That's exactly the award Webb won last year, helped by a stretch when he threw 30 straight scoreless innings. His current run bests any scoreless streak in baseball this season. "It's been good having broken last year's streak," Webb said. "I was kind of shooting for that, so I got that in my back pocket, so that was nice to go out there and do that, and to win the game, 1-0, was huge." Webb said his next goal is only to continue throwing zeros, brushing off questions about Orel Hershiser's Major League record 59-inning scoreless streak. "That's probably around Cal Ripken territory," Webb said. "That might be one of the most difficult ones to reach." Webb's effort helped the D-backs clinch their seventh straight series victory in a 17-3 stretch since his last loss, a 6-2 defeat against the Cubs in which Webb pitched well. Since that time, Arizona has turned a 4 1/2-game deficit in the standings into a season-high four-game lead in the National League West. The right-hander has been a major part of that streak, practically guaranteeing the D-backs a victory even in a game like Saturday in which they scratched out only one run on four hits. "I'm feeling pretty good right now," Webb said. "Last two games I was able to locate my fastball as well as I have been all year, probably a little better. That's probably about the only difference. I had a pretty good feel for my changeup, curveball right now, too, and getting some strikeouts on those pitches." Said catcher Chris Snyder: "The guy's throwing the ball unbelievable right now, and it's huge for us, just with the way he's controlling the game and controlling the strike zone, working through guys." Arizona had a chance to add on after the Nationals intentionally walked Stephen Drew with two outs in the seventh to set up a bases-loaded situation with Webb's spot in the order due up. Melvin had Jeff Cirillo in the on-deck circle instead of Webb with Drew batting in a showing of gamesmanship, but the manager said he never considered actually hitting for Webb. Webb eventually lined out to first, but as it turned out, he didn't need any more support. Melvin faced another tough decision entering the ninth, with Webb sitting at 106 pitches and starting to feel tired. Melvin's rule typically involves not sending out a pitcher in that type of situation where he can lose the game, as he pulled Doug Davis on Aug. 3 in a similar 1-0 contest. But Melvin trusted Webb enough to the point where he said this was his game. Webb appreciated the gesture and came through with a perfect ninth, including his 10th strikeout of the contest. "It was big," Webb said. "I wanted to go out there and finish the game, especially 1-0. I didn't want anyone to go out there and lose my game for myself. We looked at the lineup and felt pretty comfortable with who was coming up and how I'd approached them earlier in the game. When you get into the ninth inning, it all comes back, and I felt twice as good in the ninth as I did in the eighth." Webb got all the support he needed in the fourth, when Justin Upton lined a two-out triple to bring in Eric Byrnes, who singled earlier in the inning. Those two hits made up the only base knocks the D-backs managed off Lannan (1-1) in the first six innings. "With a man on second base, you have to try to drive something in the gap," Upton said.
Webb did the rest."To be able to go out there and throw nine innings, you don't see it a lot and to be able to do that is huge," Webb said. "That's what I think all starting pitchers strive for is to go out there and start the game and finish the game that they started, so being able to do that is kind of unique now, and it's pretty special to me to be able to do that."
Michael Schwartz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.