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Didn't Make the Paper, Vol. IX

So if you're not interested in how sausage is made, stop reading now and tune in later tonight when I deliver some lineups.

[First let me deliver a plug for Dave Sheinin's chat. If you're reading this between noon and 1 p.m., you can ask questions here, or just read it later for his insights on baseball, music and fatherhood - or at least the first one.]

Here is what happens when you work for an East Coast paper and the game you cover begins at 10:05 p.m. back home: You report and write a story during batting practice, scramble back upstairs to the press box and slam that baby together so folks who get that beautiful thud of the $.35 ink-and-paper edition landing on their doorsteps have something to read about the Nationals, even though there's no game story yet. (First deadline: 10:15 p.m. eastern, next around an hour later, final around an hour after that.)

So I had a whole story about the first month of the season, and whether it fits into the long-range plan, and how Acta and Kasten and players and stuff felt about that. Much of the stuff we discussed yesterday at the Journal.

At our morning Journal staff meeting, I suggested I do that, but then have that story morph into a game story by the end of the night. "Great idea," the staff responded in unison (though I sometimes get the feeling they're just kissing rear. They know who signs their paychecks, after all).

Well, what finally appeared in the last print edition - as well as on something called the World Wide Web that, from what they tell me, appears to be catching on - was kind of a half-hearted nod to the game, and a half-hearted analysis of the first season. Wasn't really committed to both. I guess that happens when you have 10 minutes to rewrite after coming back from the clubhouse, where I didn't have sufficient time to explore the nooks and crannies of John Patterson's brain.

Anyway, that leaves us with this: Jake Peavy made a stupid play. A really stupid play. You could argue that it decided the game. And it didn't appear in the pages of The Washington Post.

(Aside: The Journal staff and I discussed the decision in our staff meeting this morning (done by conference call, because I don't yet have the budget to bring the staff with me on the road), and we decided that I need to handle those situations better, that the idea of leaving in some of the feature material for the game story is good, but it all falls on the writer to pull it off deftly. Live and learn.)

So in the top of the fourth with the game tied 1-1 (on Dmitri Young's groundout and Terrmel "Old Friend" Sledge's homer), Jake Peavy hit Ryan Church in the legs with an 0-2 breaking ball, putting Church on first. Church flipped his bat harshly before he went to first.

Now, it did seem that Church's reaction was a bit strange. Because I was racing back to the press box to make sausage, I didn't have a chance to ask him about it, but I know he's been dealing with shin splints, and maybe he was upset about getting hit in the shin. Who knows? But it clearly rattled Peavy. Here's what he told San Diego reporters afterward:

"I just couldn't believe he acted the way he did - spiking his bat after getting hit with an 0-and-2 breaking ball," Peavy said. "It kind of got me flustered."

Flustered enough that he completely forgot to hold Church on. With Austin Kearns up next, Peavy pitched from the windup, not the stretch. Church and first base coach Jerry Morales noticed immediately, and Church waltzed into second with no throw. It was his third stolen base of the year. (Question: Why in the world is that not defensive indifference? Yes, it's the fourth inning of a tie game, and surely the defense should care about whether Church advanced. But the fact of the matter is, there was no break to cover second base by the middle infielders, no throw from the catcher, and the pitcher DIDN'T EVEN HOLD HIM ON. Shouldn't the scoring be based on whether the defense WAS indifferent, rather than on whether they SHOULD HAVE BEEN indifferent?)

Anyway, Kearns predictably followed with a hard groundball single, and Church scored the run that put the Nationals up 2-1. Peavy: "I just wasn't thinking. Stupid play by me, and it cost us the game."

Maybe, maybe not. Should it have been in the pages of The Washington Post? Uh, yeah. Kind of a no-brainer. But darn, that sausage tastes good anyway. Kind of a fennel flavor in there.

Patterson: A big step, no doubt. He only hit 92 mph on the gun once, in the first, but he hadn't done that before. And he did tip it to 90 or so a couple times when he needed to, and maintained the velocity on his fastball.

(I can't believe we're talking this much about one guy's velocity, to be honest, but with him everything really seems to stem from that. I am/was interested in seeing if he can/would adjust to being a pitcher who can't bring it at 93 consistently, but there's still time for that.)

As good as he was last night, and as important as that step was, I still would have liked to see him go into the seventh. He had only 77 pitches, and with the bases loaded and nobody out, it made sense that Manny Acta would pinch hit for him in the top of the seventh, but I wish the circumstances were different and he could've gone 100-110 pitches.

To pinch hitting: Did you see that number (and this one did make the $.35 edition)? Here it is again: 3 for 44. I'm going to print it one more time just so you don't miss it: 3 for 44. Let's do the math. Hmmmmmm. Carry the 1. Yep, that's a .068 batting average for Nationals' pinch hitters. It is, not surprisingly, last in the National League (though the Indians, Yankees and Rangers are all below that). That's not acceptable for a team that has the second-most plate appearances for pinch hitters (51) in baseball, trailing only double-switch obsessed Tony La Russa and the Cardinals.

So part of the discussion from yesterday, when I said I thought Guzman and Logan would help the lineup/defense/bench, should have been that they would at least have Ronnie Belliard as a switch-hitting pinch hitter. Right now, they are getting nothing from the bench. Robert Fick, the guy most likely to give a competitive pinch hit at-bat right now (and the guy who got worked over by the home plate ump on Sunday against John Maine, when a 3-0 pitch a foot off the plate was called a strike) is 0 for 7 with one RBI as a pinch hitter. Michael Restovich is 0 for 4. Recently demoted D'Angelo Jimenez was 0 for 12 with a walk. Josh Wilson is 1 for 7. Chris Snelling is a sizzling 1 for 4.

For anyone who doesn't understand this team - which is to say, the vast majority of people who live, work and breathe - it would sound ludicrous to say the loss of Logan and Guzman has affected things so much. The defensive changes are obvious (though I'm telling you, Church ran down a couple balls last night very nicely). But put Lopez back at second, a has-to-be-improved-because-he-couldn't-possibly-be-as-bad Guzman at short, Nick Johnson scooping balls out of the dirt and getting on-base 40 percent of the time back at first, Logan in center and Church in left, with Belliard/Young/Snelling-and/or-Casto off the bench, and you can't tell me that the team Acta entered into the season with isn't better than the one he has now.

One more thing: I noticed in the comments section to yesterday's last post about the lineup changes that some people believe I am complaining about covering this team. Wouldn't want it to be interpreted that way, and I apologize if I come off like that. It is, of course, a privilege to cover an MLB team, because there's only maybe 100 of these jobs in the country. Not bad. I do, however, reserve the right to be snarky/sarcastic/falsely bitter/etc. Should be interpreted as such at all times. I think most of you get/got that. Some miss the point. I just know that if I had a regular job back home, and I had to get up at 5 or 6 a.m. for a commute, I might not be able to stay up till 1 a.m. watching Chad Cordero allow warning-track fly balls. Believe me, it's hard to go directly to sleep after something like that.

One more thing. Really, and this is it: Is anyone listening to these podcasts? I do them after every game I cover. They seem rather choppy to me. I'm not a radio guy, and don't write scripts for them or anything. I'd be interested in anyone's thoughts on whether they add anything to the coverage. (Personally, I think the best part about them is the sound from players, so if you can suffer through my babbling and saying, "Uh," about 80 times, there's some decent stuff in there.)

That is all for now. Check out Sheinin's chat. I'll have one tomorrow at 10 a.m. Pacific/1 p.m. back home.

Talk to you from Petco. (Park, that is.)

By Barry Svrluga  |  May 1, 2007; 12:32 PM ET
 
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