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05/29/08 4:09 PM ET

Healthy Ayala riding hot throwing streak

After Tommy John, reliever pitching in back-to-back games

SAN DIEGO -- Reliever Luis Ayala is back to being the player that gave the Nationals/Expos so many quality innings, overmatching hitters with his power sinker.

Ayala hasn't given up a run in his last seven appearances -- a 7 2/3-inning span -- and has seen his ERA drop from 5.87 to 4.45. The righty made a large contribution on Wednesday night, pitching two scoreless innings against the Padres, helping the Nationals preserve a 6-4 victory.

"He has been a big key for us," manager Manny Acta said. "Everybody knows he had been through that little rough spot. He is human. Everyone goes through that. He bounced back very nicely. We need him big time."

It also helps that Ayala was able to get his elbow fixed in 2006. He had Tommy John elbow ligament reconstruction surgery that year and returned to the team last year. Both Acta and Nats pitching coach Randy St. Claire didn't allow Ayala to pitch in back-to-back games very often, erring on the side of caution with respect to the injury. Now there aren't any limitations for Ayala.

"I feel like I have a new arm," Ayala said. "My location is pretty good now. So I'm working with Randy on my delivery. My breaking ball and sinker is doing everything now. I have to keep working every day."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.