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Nats Lose 1-0 (And Other Notes)

First, you gotta know how this one ended. The Nats headed into the bottom of the ninth today tied 0-0 with the Astros -- who, at that moment, had a 3-16-3 Grapefruit League record. Zech Zinicola, an import from minor league camp (the MLB version of a temp worker), strode in from the bullpen. The inning got off to a bad start when Anderson Hernandez couldn't field a grounder hit by Michael Bourn on an in-between hop: E-4.

Zinicola walked the next batter, David Newhan.

Jason Smith lined out to center, but Bourn tagged.

So, first-and-third, one out.

Darin Erstad came up. He grounded one up the middle, another test for Hernandez. He needed to turn two or the game was over. He lunged for the ball and snagged it, just within arm's reach of the base. He touched second and, flat on his knees, threw back to first. He got off a strong throw. Erstad just beat it, though, avoiding the double play, and allowing Bourn to score. So, game over. The Nats are now 9-11-2 in the Grapefruit League.

Additional notes

* Ronnie Belliard is still day-to-day with his ankle sprain, though he's making progress, having taken some grounders in the infield this weekend. Dmitri Young is still working on BP in the cages, taking swings against coaches. Once he moves over to the minor league fields for more mobile "baseball activities," the team will have a better sense of when he can actually crack the lineup.

* Between today's scoreless six innings and his previous exhibition start on March 8, John Lannan didn't start a game. Or at least a real one. His lone appearance was a five-inning shutout in an intrasquad game on March 14. As a result, when Lannan walked into the visiting clubhouse today and saw Houston's lineup -- a legit challenge, with Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee and Miguel Tejada -- Lannan felt a jolt of excitement.

"I was ready to go," he said. "I've been waiting for it."

Though Lannan had some nit-picking complaints about his ability to throw first-pitch strikes, his performance reassured the Nationals that their Opening Day starter is ready. Through 12 innings this spring, Lannan has not allowed a run. His pitch count against the Astros ran into the mid-70s, and he'll make two more starts this spring -- plenty of time to stretch himself out before April 6.

"He just got six scoreless innings," Manny Acta said, "and that's what counts at the end. It was good to see him -- especially with a lineup like that."

* New C Josh Bard will be traveling tomorrow with the team. I caught up with him earlier today at HSCS before his workout, and will have a bit more about his arrival for tomorrow's print story.

By Chico Harlan  |  March 22, 2009; 4:43 PM ET
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You call Zech Zinicola the "MLB version of a temp worker."Over the past couple of seasons,he had been considered a solid pitching prospect for the Nationals.Even if you're not crazy about the job,you should at least know who you are covering.

Posted by: seanmg | March 22, 2009 11:37 PM | Report abuse

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