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Atilano’s dream realized

Apr 24, 2010, 3:41 AM EST

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Luis Atilano couldn't have scripted a better big-league debut.

Luis Atilano was 6 the first time Ivan Rodriguez squatted behind the plate in a big-league game. It would be a few more years before Atilano became a Pudge fan, but like every other kid growing up in Puerto Rico, it was bound to happen.

Flash-forward 19 years and 1,500 miles north, where on a gorgeous April evening in the District, Atilano made his major-league debut with none other than Rodriguez as his batterymate. That the right-hander, stuck in the minor leagues for the last seven years, tossed six innings of one-run ball to lead the Nationals to a 5-1 victory over the Dodgers only added to the moment.

"It's crazy. It's been my dreams," Atilano said. "After seven years, I made it finally. I pitched to Pudge Rodriguez, hopefully a Hall of Famer. I can't ask for nothing better than that."

The Nats couldn't have asked for anything better out of a rookie pitcher making his debut against the majors' best-hitting club. Even without Manny Ramirez — who was placed on the DL today with a strained calf — the Dodgers boasted a formidable lineup that has averaged more than six runs per game this season.

So when Atilano carved this way through Los Angeles' batters with ease, scattering five hits over six innings, it felt like a shot in the arm for a Nationals team desperately seeking some consistency fromRead more ยป

  1. Jenn Jenson - Apr 24, 2010 at 3:52 AM

    I love games like today, with stories like this. Congratulations to Luis, who also made a bunch of strangers happy today because we were able to see his dream come true. Same thing five days from now, please.

  2. Andrew - Apr 24, 2010 at 3:55 AM

    Jenn – Very well said! Congrats to the Atilano family. I enjoyed it, especially the shaving creme pie after the game, and also happy for Adam Dunn who really really needed a night like this.

  3. ckstevenson - Apr 24, 2010 at 4:36 AM

    Congrats to Luis! I think we all hope this was the first in a long line of great games.

  4. dale - Apr 24, 2010 at 9:37 AM

    Fabulous game from Atilano. I loved the way he actually barely missed Pudge's target at all. Superb control from a rookie. This could easily have been a shutout if not for some sloppy fielding from Morgan.Now compare this game to what would have been a start from Marquis. Day and night difference. Perhaps a message is being sent throughout the organization that you can not come up here and gut out an injury if it costs your team. I do look forward to the return of a HEALTHY Marquis, Mock, Detwiler, Wang, Zimmermann and Zimmerman. Amazingly we are actually deep enough now to get by without these players being in the lineup. That alone shows progress.

  5. natsfan1a - Apr 24, 2010 at 10:22 AM

    Even if he was nervous on the first pitch, he threw a strike. I liked Atilano's poise and his tendency to get ahead in the count. They didn't give him the strikeout ball as well?Nice to see Dunn's dingers, too (and the Elvis wig, natch).

  6. Gus - Apr 24, 2010 at 11:02 AM

    What I liked:1) Throwing Strikes and getting ahead of batters from the get go…not being scared.2) Battling at the Plate – he fouled off a number of pitches and even when he struck out on breaker in dirt, he ran to first rather than get tagged out.3) Keeping his head in the game despite that ugly play by Nyjer on Belliards pop up double. He didn't have a melt down as we have seen with other pitchers in similar situations last year.4) Hustling to cover first on ground out to Dunn (who by the way, is really playing more than adequate first base so far)…..he took off like a bullet and was there in time. Just needs to work on finding the bag with his foot….although, watching from TV, it looked as if his foot was touching side of bag.5) Coming to Nat's rotation out of the blue and allowing me to imagine he could actually be a serviceable starter this year, right now, without having to depend on the wounded wings in syracuse.6) Recognizing the moment and being genuine and emotional in his post game responses. More simply – Authentic.Let's hope he repeats this feat again and again this year.

  7. D'Gourds - Apr 24, 2010 at 11:14 AM

    What impressed me the most about this kid was the nasty tailing, sinking movement of his two seamer! He just threw it to the middle of the plate and let the movement do the work. He made terrific hitters look like minor leaguers. Let's hope he can do this on a consistent basis and he can adapt when the rest of MLB inevitably adapts to him.I'm genuinely excited about the Nats future. This is great!

  8. bumsfan4 - Apr 24, 2010 at 11:21 AM

    Hey Mark: Great stuff, but the audio I got was not Atilano. Sounded like audio from the Jimenez game.

  9. K.D. - Apr 24, 2010 at 12:04 PM

    I liked seeing a talented young pitcher trust an experienced catcher and not over think anything. Just trust his own stuff and let Pudge read the batters. It was nice to see Dunn do what he is supposed to do, but I have been happy with watching his improving defense.

  10. Suicide Squeeze - Apr 24, 2010 at 12:30 PM

    I wonder if Pudge did his best Crash Davis impression during the pre-game meeting with Atilano: "Don't think. It can only hurt the ball club." Way to just trust your gut and your catcher, kid. Welcome to the Show!

  11. Anonymous - Apr 24, 2010 at 12:32 PM

    Mr. Z. – This is gettng old, but I gotta say it again: another very nicely written piece. Thank you very much. I so enjoy reading your pieces.

  12. Anonymous - Apr 24, 2010 at 12:36 PM

    Great piece, Mark. Thank you.

  13. Anonymous - Apr 24, 2010 at 1:53 PM

    Mark, What a great story! I hope this kid can stick around. Go Nats!

  14. NatBisquit - Apr 24, 2010 at 2:16 PM

    It's hard not to want to taunt the critics of the Ivan ROdriguez signing when you read things like this. For six million over two years getting a leader who so many others want to play with and who to date has hit better than most believed he could. Even if his hitting regresses to norm, that was a good signing. It's not just PR, other players really do seem to want to play with him, be mentored by him, and respect him.Great moment for Atliano in particular.

  15. Anonymous - Apr 24, 2010 at 2:34 PM

    This is a great story.But Mark–"countrymate"?

  16. Slidell - Apr 24, 2010 at 2:42 PM

    It gives me a comfortable feeling when someone is out there throwing first-pitch strikes. Last night, the Kid was doing that with consistency.

  17. Mark Zuckerman - Apr 24, 2010 at 3:53 PM

    Anon 10:34 — You know, I knew that sounded wrong when I typed it last night. I should have known it was "countryman." Just fixed it, thanks.

  18. Aeoliano - Apr 24, 2010 at 4:18 PM

    "countrymate"? Paesani or relatives (on a small island dotted with many small villages that is certainly always a possibility. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Sounds good to me.Amazing game for Atilano. Desperately needed in the aftermath of the disappointment over Marquis. Let's hope Livan's tutelage continues this afternoon with Stammen.

  19. Bote Man - Apr 25, 2010 at 2:10 PM

    Better writing here than can be had from a certain baseball writer at the leading paper in the District.I just hope your next several stories after an Atilano start celebrate his victories, as well.



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