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A Serious Hole

Three games gone, and Washington is still looking for its first win of the year. Until that happens, only a few backhanded compliments can keep the optimism on life support. (Or is it already too late?) If you're looking for good news, let's start with the basics: Washington's starter went six innings today -- and yes, it was an erratic six, punctured by one ugly inning, but that's what you get with Daniel Cabrera, and for the moment, he has a comfortable lead in the Starting Pitcher ERA Race. (Cabrera -- 7.50 ERA; Lannan -- 18.00 ERA; Olsen -- 24.00 ERA.) Also, this game was kind of close. Florida finally had to use its closer, Matt Lindstrom, in a save situation. And boy, he battled. Washington strung together some professional at bats in the ninth, and almost spurred a comeback.

Entering the final frame down 6-3, the Nats opened with a Nick Johnson walk. Cristian Guzman struck out on three pitches. Elijah Dukes, on the sixth pitch, lined a single. When Ryan Zimmerman's would-be double play was muffed by Dan Uggla, instead loading the bases, you thought that Washington might have been gifted a real opportunity. Adam Dunn even followed with a masterful at bat, a nine-pitch walk that forced in a run.

But one out later, still with the bases loaded, Austin Kearns came up.

It was 6-4.

Kearns smeared the first pitch he saw to left field. Everybody in Washington's dugout thought it would drop in front of left fielder Brett Carroll. (I'll have some good reaction from this moment in tomorrow's story.) Instead, Carroll dove into the grass, and pulled off a tumbling catch.

"I was just hoping it would fall," Kearns said. "I was hoping to tie the game up."

That didn't happen. So now, the Nats are 0-3. Do we dare to look ahead? The team is off tomorrow. Friday night in Atlanta, Shairon Martis goes against Derek Lowe. Career versus Washington, Lowe is 5-1 with a 2.77 ERA.

*

Here's Dunn, talking about the start of the season. (Notice, he's no longer dismissing the hole his team is in.) "It's very frustrating. That is kind of an excuse, that it's only the third game. But, you know, we had our chances to win this game, and we let them slip.

Asked how he would sum up this series, Dunn said, "Awful. It was not how we wanted to start our season. And the only thing we can do is go put it behind us, clear our minds, get our minds right on the off day tomorrow, and take it to Atlanta."

*

Encouraging Statistic Dept.: Nats hitters walked 10 times today. "Guys are really grinding out their at bats," hitting coach Rick Eckstein said, "and from the standpoint of just getting that one breakthrough hit, I thought we had some very good at bats. In certain situations we hit the ball hard, just right at them."

*

Discouraging Statistic Dept.: Through three games, Washington's pitching staff has a 9.38 ERA. It has surrendered 26 runs (25 earned) in 24.0 IP. It's walked 13, struck out 18, and thrown three wild pitches.

By Chico Harlan  |  April 8, 2009; 5:51 PM ET
 
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Next: Opening Pitches, Chats, Sales Pitches You Just Can't Make

Comments

folks, sorry for the goof earlier with belliard. he didn't start; willie harris did. stupid, careless mistake. you guys are better fact-checkers than the new yorker could ever find. belliard pinch-hit for harris in the sixth and struck out; gonzalez pinch-hit for belliard in the eighth.

Posted by: Chico Harlan | April 8, 2009 6:02 PM | Report abuse

Fact checking Harlan is fine, but what's with all the glee when he messed something up, like a bunch of ten year olds chanting, "Teacher made a mistake!"

Posted by: PowerBoater69 | April 8, 2009 6:10 PM | Report abuse

To: Nationals Journal
From: Glass Half Full Department
RE: Game Today


... But you were still watching the game in the ninth inning... and you were sitting on the edge of your seats.

(this doesn't make it good, just better than "way bad". - Glass Half Empty Department)

Posted by: wigi | April 8, 2009 6:10 PM | Report abuse

Don't let it happen again or we'll... we'll...

Hmmm...

Probably rip you anonymously in comments in passive- and not-so-passive aggressive manners.

Posted by: Uncle_Teddy | April 8, 2009 6:11 PM | Report abuse

rofl. If you can't beat them with a stick, disarm them with gratuitous praise.

Posted by: joebleux | April 8, 2009 6:12 PM | Report abuse

Seriously. It has to be hard to graciously admit error under such circumstances.

-----

Fact checking Harlan is fine, but what's with all the glee when he messed something up, like a bunch of ten year olds chanting, "Teacher made a mistake!"

Posted by: JohninMpls | April 8, 2009 6:28 PM | Report abuse

Well, it seems the sillies are coming back on the Braves...just what we need, an angry Braves team blowing a big lead in sillydelphia coming home for there opener against the Nats. Great, just great.

Posted by: cokedispatch | April 8, 2009 6:31 PM | Report abuse

I'm listening to Don Sutton do play by play on the radio of the Braves v. sillies. I miss Sutton already. He sounds professional on the radio with his play by play.

Posted by: cokedispatch | April 8, 2009 6:35 PM | Report abuse

>Well, it seems the sillies are coming back on the Braves...just what we need, an angry Braves team blowing a big lead in sillydelphia coming home for there opener against the Nats. Great, just great.

I'd be more worried about Derek Lowe on Friday night. But what do I know.

Posted by: Brue | April 8, 2009 6:41 PM | Report abuse

Reposting, which I almost never do - now improved with TinyUrl's.

Hey, hey, smarter people than me think the "OF to 2b" conversion isn't totally crazy! Look here: Rob Neyer says "It might be the most fascinating phenomenon in baseball this spring: three teams turning outfielders and third basemen into second basemen. The Cardinals are doing it with Skip Schumaker, the Royals are doing it with Mark Teahen, and the Rockies are doing it with Ian Stewart.

Crazy? When it's one team you might think so, but when it's three teams you have wonder if maybe they've figured out something that everyone else hasn't."

And Dave Cameron says "As the newer defensive metrics gain credibility, we saw an increase in the premium for defense at positions where defense hasn’t historically been valued and a corresponding decrease at a position that has been genuinely considered a premium glove spot. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I’d bet that going forward, second base is going to look a lot more like third base. "

Ok, I'm officially intrigued by this idea. Millz for 2b!!!

Tinyurls:

Neyer: http://tinyurl.com/d8h77l
Cameron: http://tinyurl.com/d2vv4o

Posted by: Highway295Revisited | April 8, 2009 6:42 PM | Report abuse

C'mon boys, take it to ATL. I'm aware that this may be one of the worst pitching staffs ever but throwing strikes could do it (and a Dunnkey 3 run dinger). I hope you all hate the Mets as I do, big Marlins weekend (sans Johan on Sunday).

Posted by: brandonkosnik | April 8, 2009 6:47 PM | Report abuse

NatsNut,
I agree with you. Last year is finally over. The season started today. It was exciting.

Chico,
I prefer a high volume of informative posts with the occasional error because you rushed to satisfy my appetite.

Let's play two!

Posted by: SlowPitch63 | April 8, 2009 6:47 PM | Report abuse

that mistake didn't bother me, but the dramatic language kinda does.

"Until that happens, only a few backhanded compliments can keep the optimism on life support."

C'mon Chico. optimism on life support? puh-lease. backhanded compliments? There was some good baseball played today. period. still looking for a win? after 3? you were here last year. it could be much, much worse.

It's OUR job to get emotional and dramatic. You're supposed to be balanced.

Listen to Charlie and Dave more. They can describe the worst outing without sugar-coating anything, and still leave you feeling like nobody's being judged.

Posted by: NatsNut | April 8, 2009 6:50 PM | Report abuse

I'd be more worried about Derek Lowe on Friday night.

Posted by: Brue
----------------------------------------
After what Lowe did to the Phoolies on Sunday night (eight scoreless innings, 2 hits), I flat-out agree. Not to mention I'm thinking this won't be the same free-swingin' Francouer (sp?) that we've counted on striking out a lot in the past.

Posted by: HotNats | April 8, 2009 6:51 PM | Report abuse

I know it is a loss but this line-up was a real improvement over the previous two games. At least we were not over-matched or at least we did not look as over-matched. I think we need to tinker with our bench. Why not try Cintron and move Bard.

My buddy Dukes had a hit and almost a homerun. Looks like he was getting better out there. He deserves another start. Same with Willingham.

Posted by: mjames0 | April 8, 2009 6:55 PM | Report abuse

Two first round picks. Two starting pitchers. One lefty and one righty.

Posted by: periculum | April 8, 2009 6:56 PM | Report abuse

Chico,

I defended earlier but, if you get NatsNut riled up I can't help you.

Posted by: Section505203 | April 8, 2009 7:05 PM | Report abuse

Gotta jump back into the fray, with a few responses.

@coked: Of course Sutton sounds fine with the Braves; he's back where he started as an announcer & knows that on the radio, nobody's giggling about his brillo-pad 'do.

@Hwy295: Millz at 2b? Are you outta your...
"Wait a minute, that's so crazy, it just might work".
Can the team send him down to start work on it when JZMM comes up on the 19th, please?

@Brue: I'm worried about Lowe as well. As much as I wanted him with the Nationals' as a "real" #1 during the off-season, it's going to kill me a little every time WAS has to face him.

Posted by: BinM | April 8, 2009 7:09 PM | Report abuse

"Seriously. It has to be hard to graciously admit error under such circumstances."

He's not graciously admitting error. He's thanking us for being his copy editors, since all the Post's real copy editors took the last buyout. And boy, did that ever expose Boswell for the terrible writer he is.

Posted by: nunof1 | April 8, 2009 7:14 PM | Report abuse

ATL series probable SP setups...
4/10- Lowe (RHP) vs. Martis (RHP)
4/11- Jurrjens (RHP) vs. Lannan (LHP)
4/12- Vasquez (RHP) vs. Olsen (LHP)

The Nationals need to find a "stopper" amongst these three, just to give a competitive game, if not an outright win.

Posted by: BinM | April 8, 2009 7:25 PM | Report abuse

Bleep "competitive" - we own the Braves! Swwweeeep!!!

Posted by: joebleux | April 8, 2009 7:34 PM | Report abuse

This start is less than encouraging, but I remember when the team many of us followed while baseball was in exile began0-21 or something like that. Now THAT was discouraging.

For the record, I never rooted for the Orioles. I was always waiting for baseball to return to RFK.

Posted by: jbartelloni | April 8, 2009 8:06 PM | Report abuse

I like the idea of turning LMIllz into a 2B. He doesn't want to move off CF because he'll lose money as an average hitter for a LF. Putting him at 2B solves two problems - the OF surplus and the lack of production from 2B.

Without checking the old posts, I'd bet dollars to donunts Milledge has options remaining. Somebody's gotta go down on 4/19. Isn't it better for him to take ground balls in upstate New York than ride the pine in DC and have reporters ask him why? But if he can't play CF, then what else do we do with him? I'm sure it's too early to pass judgement - but if we could have Dunn, Dukes, Milledge, Johnson and Willingham/NewKearns all in the lineup together, we'd be cooking with kerosine.

Posted by: sec307 | April 8, 2009 8:08 PM | Report abuse

I forgot to mention that Milledge would more money as a 2B than LF.

Posted by: sec307 | April 8, 2009 8:11 PM | Report abuse

@307:

I seem to remember that cooking with kerosene smelled bad, and burned unevenly more often than not, with the occaisional flareup / explosion; Maybe not the best comparison. Just sayin'.

Posted by: BinM | April 8, 2009 8:42 PM | Report abuse

307:

"I forgot to mention that Milledge would [make] more money as a 2B than LF."


Tell that to Alfonso Soriano.

Posted by: wigi | April 8, 2009 8:43 PM | Report abuse

@joebleaux: If only; The Braves were what, 6-12 against us in 2008, but have bolstered their SP with Lowe & Kawakami. They're not the team we faced last year.

Posted by: BinM | April 8, 2009 9:00 PM | Report abuse

505, you're funny.

Chico, I hope you don't take too much of our (read: my) grousing to heart. I love what you're doing these days.

joebleaux: atta boy. Lowe, Shmowe!! LOL!

Posted by: NatsNut | April 8, 2009 9:05 PM | Report abuse

It's always about matchups in sports.
Marlins hit lefties. (Everyone gets to Daniel Cabrera)
Atlanta, NYM & Phillies don't hit lefties as well.
Next series is with Atlanta. I predict Nat's first win will be Lannan's next start.

Posted by: ecmdfan | April 8, 2009 9:15 PM | Report abuse

Desision-day = April 19.

Call-ups = JZimm, Hernandez (from 14-day DL), maybe Bergmann.

Optioned / DFA'd = One of the Catchers (Flores- 1st option used)?, Gonzalez (final option used)?, maybe Milledge (2nd option used)?

Posted by: BinM | April 8, 2009 9:15 PM | Report abuse

@ecmdfan:

The Marlins don't necessarily hit LHP - what they do is hold / crowd the plate against pitchers who won't (or can't) throw inside heat. They were better against Lannan & Olsen due to that; Cabrera was slightly more effective, because he kept them loose at the plate with his delivery flaws.
You don't dig-in on a 6'7" pitcher who has only a silght clue where the ball may end up from pitch-to-pitch.
D-Cab: He may never be great, but at least he's scary.

Posted by: BinM | April 8, 2009 9:30 PM | Report abuse

--
Listen to Charlie and Dave more. They can describe the worst outing without sugar-coating anything, and still leave you feeling like nobody's being judged.

Posted by: NatsNut | April 8, 2009 6:50 PM
--

If you say so. I remember them talking about FLop and WMP last year and it didn't take any reading between the lines to know what they really thought. All that first-pitch-swinging got a fair amount of attention, too. Still, I agree that they wouldn't get quite as down as we fans do (and maybe Chico did here).

Posted by: tmp2234 | April 8, 2009 10:42 PM | Report abuse

Along those same lines, I couldn't help hearing Charlie and Dave remarking how well Dukes was "gliding" under balls in center field today. In sharp contrast with Thrilledge's nightly Circle Line tours to get to balls, or not.

Posted by: jdschulz50 | April 8, 2009 11:02 PM | Report abuse

I have to agree totally with Wigi: This was a good game to watch. We had a shot in the 9th, and isn't this why we love baseball? The Nats drew 10 walks. Oh, how I hope they can keep that up! And Dukes made Manny's job a lot tougher -- he's got to be out there.

Posted by: nats24 | April 8, 2009 11:18 PM | Report abuse

"D-Cab: He may never be great, but at least he's scary."

This cracked me up. And it followed, what I think is a very astute point about Marlins batters. This might be a St. Clair or Manny problem, because the Nats in general are very wary of coming in on batters.

Dukes did great today, I think he's earned himself another look in center.

Posted by: Section506 | April 8, 2009 11:31 PM | Report abuse

The Nationals were 3-0 to begin last season and were up something like 6-0 in the fourth game before Bergman got blown out and things were never the same.

Just as last year's 3-0 start wasn't indicative of the rest of the season, neither is this year's 0-3 start. Two starting pitchers had bad games. No more, no less.

Don't think for a second that John Lannan is going to pitch back-to-back bad games.

Come May 1st, the Nats will be within 3-4 games of .500, and that's just fine with me.

Posted by: rushfari | April 8, 2009 11:33 PM | Report abuse

Um, John Lannan just did pitch bad back-to-back games.

I want some of what you're smoking, though!

Posted by: paulkp | April 8, 2009 11:36 PM | Report abuse

Milledge at second base is the most outlandish fantasy. And even if he could make that transition--would he still be the same Milledge at the plate? I would much rather see Milledge be sent to the minors to learn to play the position he is currently penciled at--center field. Maybe he could have a whopping case of attitude readjustment thrown at him by the minor league managers while he is down there. The problem with Milledge IMO is that he was anointed last season without ever really trying out for his position and this season he was anointed as the leadoff hitter without having a clue how to get on base as well. When you have an organization that keeps giving him handouts like this you will get the product that you now have. Let him actually beat someone out (like Dukes) and then he may emerge as a professional baseball player. What is the point of actually having six outfielders if you do not really allow a competition to take place for the three positions? So far, Willingham, Kearns, Dunn and Dukes have all shown a much better ability to grind at the plate than Milledge. Maybe that fact has gone unnoticed in the clubhouse.

Posted by: driley | April 8, 2009 11:40 PM | Report abuse

Driley: Oh, I think it's been noticed in the clubhouse. It's whether it's been noticed in the manager's office that matters. Acta has tied his fortunes to Thrilledge, and that seems to be a sinking ship. Fire Acta, and the Thrilledge problem goes away. He becomes a fourth or fifth outfielder then. Manny's the bigger problem.

Posted by: jdschulz50 | April 8, 2009 11:47 PM | Report abuse

Let's also not forget the possibility that young Lastings might be overwhelmed with what is expected of him. After all, how many people have tried to take him under their wings to make him a real, grown-up ballplayer? No doubt being a little **** drives many of them off, but that doesn't mean it's not needed.

Posted by: Section506 | April 8, 2009 11:48 PM | Report abuse

Boswell's article on the Philly 'invite': http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/08/AR2009040803902.html

Posted by: AlexL925 | April 9, 2009 4:02 AM | Report abuse

The big differences between last year and this year: runs and young pitching. How depressing was it last year to have a baserunner at 2nd, much less a run, be a big deal? I look forward to watching the young pitchers improve over the course of the season. This team will be much more fun to watch even if they win only 4-5 more games.

Posted by: GoNats21 | April 9, 2009 5:16 AM | Report abuse

I agree that this year’s team is much more fun to watch already. Talent is so much better. Dunn is great power and great theater. Johnson is great...let’s hope he stays healthy. Willingham is a true professional. Dukes is a super star talent and getting better and better. I like Bimial a lot. I can not wait to see Zimmermann again and Martis throws strikes.

The Big disappointment on this team is Acta. That we can fix. That is Good News. If Acta and Rizzo do not put Dukes in CF and Milledge in AAA by the end of April they both will be fired. The team would be fun to watch. What takes the fun out of the April 2009 Nats is watching a Spoiled player hurt the team while much better players sit on the bench. What makes spring 2009 Nats so frustrating is the pig headed manager who lets his pride get in the way of good baseball decisions.

Acta is the problem. I could enjoy 65 wins if the score was 8-6 each night and Dukes grows into our CF super star. He is special; nobody else on this team is even close. Not Zim or any of the young pitches....and clearly not Milledge....who still thinks he is doing everything right and Manny still has not gotten over himself to set his straight.....

Posted by: JayBeee | April 9, 2009 7:41 AM | Report abuse

506,

It is apparent that Milledge at this juncture is overwhelmed with what is expected of him. That is precisely why he is operating at a level too high for his skills. It is an example of the Peterson Principle in sports--you get promoted to your level of incompetentcy. He has the fielding skills of a Rookie league player and no lead off skills that I can see. On last year's team he could get by in such a position because what choices did we have? This year Manny has a few more options for the outfield. Now, if Manny does not put his best players on the field that is a whole new can of worms.

Posted by: driley | April 9, 2009 7:45 AM | Report abuse

>Boswell's article on the Philly 'invite': http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/08/AR2009040803902.html

lol Boz has a point - if Kasten had put a better team on the field, he wouldn't have to beg other cities to come to the park. But it just speaks to his expertise - running the business side instead of the player side. Maybe he's just a shill. Maybe the guy really doesn't know sports.

Posted by: Brue | April 9, 2009 7:46 AM | Report abuse

"Every one of us has our critics, but I was expecting that any ball that lands 25 feet from him or from [Adam] Dunn, one of you guys is going to ask about defense. And they are who they are. Milledge is not Tori Hunter, but he's Lastings Milledge; we like him, and he is our center fielder."

No Manny he is not the team's CF. He is your CF. Ask your coaches , you dolt!!

I know the team lost yesterday but at least they were competitive. Here we a have manager trying desperately to get Milledge back in the game. As "driley" and "jdshulz50" said in earlier posts the problem with Milledge is that he never competed for a job. Just as the Lerners could not see Bowden's flaws , Acta can't see Milledge's flaws. If Manny put Milledge back in after the way Dukes played then he is asking to be fired. I would prefer having "driley" and "jschulz50" running this team as opposed to Acta. At least they have a clue. I know they would do a better job. How about it guys?

Posted by: mjames0 | April 9, 2009 7:50 AM | Report abuse

BINGO!

Posted by: AtomicOvermind | April 9, 2009 8:08 AM | Report abuse

While I am in a ranting mood I would like to direct a broadside at the MASN commentators. Cabrera did NOT pitch a "great" game yesterday. Stop using superlatives for crappy performances. It is why people think that you are the joke of the broadcasting industry. The unfortunate thing about witnessing a television broadcast is that I can see with my own eyes what is happening which is a complete contradiction to some of the irrational exuberance spouted out from the commentators. The ancient Greeks understood the power of tragedy to have the audience share a state of catharsis with the actors on the stage. If the baseball play by play folks are like the Greek Chorus in a tragedy, commenting on the FATE of the players and how their actions lead them to such despair then this winless team would take on new meaning. Milledge could be the character who is cast down because of his Hubris. Acta could be Agamemnon, the leader of the Greeks before the gates of Troy. Dukes, of course would be Achilles, with the near god like abilities and yet a mortal flaw.
There is so much good material to work with here, MASN. This team has the potential to be elevated to truly classic standards, even if the genre is tragedy.

Posted by: driley | April 9, 2009 8:12 AM | Report abuse

Every day Acta has Milledge in CF and Dukes on the bench, the rope around his neck gets tighter. It's too bad, because you've got to give Acta credit for throwing Kearns out there this year too.

Posted by: NavinJohnson | April 9, 2009 10:15 AM | Report abuse

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