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Nationals Close Out Home Stand With 1-0 Loss

There were several reasons Washington could not complete a sweep of the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday night, though none of them had anything to do with the starting pitcher. The pitching and defense in the ninth inning were suspect, sure. But Manager Manny Acta laid the primary fault elsewhere.

"We struggled at the end, but we shouldn't put ourselves in that position," Acta said. "We had twice, runner on third with less than two outs, and our situational hitting just continues to bury us, to hurt us. You win ballgames scoring runs and we haven't been doing that."

They certainly did not do it Wednesday night. Washington had runners in scoring position in four different innings, yet was able to plate none of them.

In the second, Ronnie Belliard advanced to second base on an error after the Braves tried to turn a double play. But Jesus Flores flew out to center to end the inning.

In the fourth, Ryan Zimmerman led off with a double, but the three batters behind him in the order (Adam Dunn, Elijah Dukes and Josh Willingham) were retired in order.

In the fifth, Alex Cintron grounded into a double play with one out and men on first and second.

And in the seventh, a leadoff double by Willingham was negated by two groundouts and a pop fly by pinch-hitter Austin Kearns that never left the infield.

"They know what they're supposed to do; they're just not executing it," Acta said."Some guys, I guess, are getting a little bit antsy and getting out of the plan and chasing pitches in or away. I told them today there's only so much you can do. Dukes hit the ball real hard. It was just right at the shortstop. It's just, right now the percentage is very low, and it needs to get better."

Had the Nationals converted on any one of those scoring opportunities, a solid outing by lefty starter John Lannan would not have gone to waste. Lannan allowed five hits, no runs and two walks while striking out four in seven innings of work. His start continued a seven-game stretch in which the production Washington has received from its rotation has dramatically improved.

As the Nationals head back out on the road, Acta said he was encouraged by the revival of his starting rotation. With the way his team is hitting, he has little other choice.

"I have to," feel better about the starters, Acta said. "Yes, because the first two times around they were shaky, but they have been pretty solid pretty much the whole home stand. I feel good about those kids."

One quick injury note: Willingham appeared to suffer a calf injury during last night's game. Acta said Willingham's calf was bruised, but that it did not require an X-ray. Willingham had the calf wrapped in ice in the clubhouse after the game.

By Steve Yanda  |  April 22, 2009; 11:14 PM ET
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Olsen vs. Santana Friday makes you think of 3-12, but hey, Sprigner beat Santana last year (or was it the year before. I hate getting old.)

Posted by: nats24 | April 22, 2009 11:45 PM | Report abuse

OK, I remember now -- it was two years ago in Minn. But I was at the game last year when we nearly beat Santana at Nationals Park. He was lucky to get the win.

Posted by: nats24 | April 22, 2009 11:50 PM | Report abuse

I don't know if anyone posted this but Forbes did their annual team valuations and the Nationals had the largest drop-

The Washington Nationals ($406 million) were down 12 percent.

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | April 22, 2009 11:59 PM | Report abuse

Santana was lucky to get the win last year? He won it single-handedly, with his bat. Redding wasn't the same pitcher after that loss.

Posted by: fischy | April 23, 2009 12:45 AM | Report abuse

No, fischy, I'm talking the game, as I recall, Odalis started. The Nats hit Santana pretty well, and it took a pinch hitter's RBI to put him ahead late in the game.

Posted by: nats24 | April 23, 2009 1:30 AM | Report abuse

Ughh...picking right up where we left off last season with run support for another superfine JL effort...Come back Guzy! But nice job to take the 2-1 split Nats! Now let's go build on it...

Posted by: evanescent_panoply | April 23, 2009 4:36 AM | Report abuse

In spite of the frustrations, last night's game was enjoyable.

It's fun to watch Ronnie Belliard play baseball.

Posted by: longhorn64 | April 23, 2009 6:35 AM | Report abuse

I'm assuming that the calf injury was due to the pitch that Dukes fouled off, which hit Willingham in the on-deck circle (after Willingham had fouled one off his toe in an earlier AB).

Great job by Lannan last night, and some decent defense as well. Now if we could just nail that RISP thingy down. Oh, and do something about the whole top of the 9th thingy. (Sorry, Manny. They're not really helping with the whole job security thing.)

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 23, 2009 7:53 AM | Report abuse

Was at the park last night. Best seats I've ever had. Lannan pitched a gem. If it weren't for 2 spectacular infield plays by Jones and Escobar we would have had it. I am a Manny supporter, but I have to say that this loss is on him. 3 of Hinkley's warmup pitches were in the dirt - didn't even reach the plate. He was nowhere near the strike zone. We could tell this after 1 batter. Fans were screaming for Manny to pull him (although Mock seemed to be doing just fine and should not have been relieved by Hinkley). No Manny - not even after bases were loaded and the batter 3 balls and no strikes. Another ninth inning 2 out failure. Having said that, it was the best place to be on a cold Wednesday night.

Posted by: 6thandD | April 23, 2009 8:01 AM | Report abuse

Another thing. Cintron isn't very good. Poor fielding. Crappy hitting for a lead off guy. He was swinging for the fences at every at bat.

Posted by: 6thandD | April 23, 2009 8:04 AM | Report abuse

I was screaming at my tv set after Hinckley's first batter, 6thandD, but I guess that Manny couldn't hear me. Was anybody up in the 'pen at that point?

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 23, 2009 8:06 AM | Report abuse

Also, the Bog has a Natstravaganza post up.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 23, 2009 8:07 AM | Report abuse

Lannan has pitched 22-1/3 innings over four starts so far this year. The Nats have scored a grand total of five runs - all earned - in those four starts while he was still pitching.

That means opposing team pitchers have a nifty 1.98 ERA against Washington hitters when John Lannan is pitching.

This is a repetition of what last year's alleged lineup did to him. For all the talk of improved offense this year, the fact is that the Nats hitters turn into choking dogs when Lannan pitches. I'm waiting for the day he punches someone's lights out in the clubhouse.

Posted by: gilbertbp | April 23, 2009 8:08 AM | Report abuse

Completely agree w/ 6thandD about Hinckley. I was at the park, and Hinckley's warmup pitches were bad. Anyone watching could have told you that he didn't "have it" last night.

Why hasn't Bergmann pitched yet? What are they waiting for?

Before the season, everyone said that the Nats would go as far as their starting pitching would take them. That seems completely wrong, b/c their starting pitching pitched well enough to basically sweep this home-stand, and we went 3-5. Should have won the Opener against Philly, but Saul gave it away. Hanrahan gave away 2 to the Marlins; Saul gave away the third. And then Hinckley last night. Why can't we find relievers who can close out a game?

Posted by: usmc53 | April 23, 2009 8:11 AM | Report abuse

I feel for Lannan.

Chat alert: the schedule lists a Boz chat at 11 this a.m.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 23, 2009 8:12 AM | Report abuse

First of all thanks for leaving the Pitch speed up longer. It is very helpful.

Secondly, while the offense struggled a bit last night, the real and continuing problem is Acta's inability to manage a bullpen. I'm sure I don't have to go into deatails from the rest of the season and I was willing to chalk that up to lack of confidence in the early bullpen. But leaving Mock in for a second inning with an off day today, and then bringing Hinckley in (who also pitched on and two thirds yesterday).

How does manny acta make these decisions. Does he have a dartboard with the relievers on it in the dugout, and closes his eyes and throws a dart? Is St. Claire involved in these decisions?

Manny should learn what I did in second grade: when you point your finger at someone (bullpen, hitters) you've got three fingers pointing back at you.

Posted by: vo_37 | April 23, 2009 8:16 AM | Report abuse

On the plus side, Dibble made me laugh out loud at least two times last night. He's a funny guy.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 23, 2009 8:49 AM | Report abuse

I'm a fan of all my Nats players, but Cintron falls into a category I sort of call "transient desparation". He can't hit, his whole value is defense, and when he screws up on defense its very hard to be excited by his appearnance on the field. It's ok for a game or two before Christian gets back, but honestly I'd rather see Hernandez for a couple of games at SS with Belliard at 2b than waste a roster spot on below radar talent. THey could have brought up Pete Orr or Jose Castillo and had a little more upside. I assume Cintron and either Gonzalez or Maxwell go down when Guzman and Harris come back.

BTW, not sure how he would fit on the roster, but last night with 2 out in the 9th, I would have liked Dmitri up to bat.

Posted by: natbiscuits | April 23, 2009 8:49 AM | Report abuse

If I recall correctly, it sounded last night as though Guze may be a week away from returning.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 23, 2009 8:55 AM | Report abuse

I doubt we will see Cintron start tonight. I doubt we will see Cintron be the first off the bench to pinch hit, either. And if I am wrong on either account then there will likely be a small plume of smoke emitting from my (former) television.

Posted by: driley | April 23, 2009 9:40 AM | Report abuse

Hinckley should have been spending last night in Syracuse. The guy can't get it done and I don't care if he is a lefty or not. Walking in runs as a reliever is unaccpetable. And why is it that the Nats can't even manufacture one run? Geesh. What was Dunn doing looking at a belt high fastball with two strikes on him near the end of the game? We need him swinging the bat in those situations. Not hoping for a walk.

Posted by: Wallpass | April 23, 2009 9:44 AM | Report abuse

I doubt we'll be seeing any Nats start tonight. :-D

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 23, 2009 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Stop blaiming Cintron all you people, is just one game or are you forgetting that Gonzalez is hitting .230 and just have comited five erros on 4 games, or the excellent "not get on base" Hernandez hitting .200, or Willinghan .180, Kearns .220, Belliard .133 he just got to start one game, blame the poor pitching who could not get a strike or the weak heart of the order (3-4-5) hitters or the excellent Johnson and Flores who can't drive in even my grandma. Cintron got to play well within the Nationals standards, I saw the game and he got hit very hard turning the DP because the pitcher sought he was still in Florida relaxing , ho took to long to throw the ball an at the time Cintron took the ball the runner was on him, so after that you already know what happened.

Posted by: induchem | April 23, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

By the way, how can Acta place a life long 7-9 hitter in the bigs to be a lead-of hitter? Is he a real manager or he is just the Front Office poppet.

Posted by: induchem | April 23, 2009 10:33 AM | Report abuse

The fine fans on this blog really need to get off Manny. The guy's a pretty good manager, a strong baseball man. He has this team in position to win every night it seems... but he doesn't swing a bat, throw a pitch, or field a position. These guys have to take that last big step where they make that critical play. He's placed them all in a position to succeed -- now it's up to them.

As for his choices defensively or out of the bullpen, that's got to fall on Bowden, Rizzo, and Kasten. Manny can only manage the talent (or lack thereof) at his disposal. If the bench players or last man out of the 'pen aren't good enough to do the job, that's an organizational problem, not a Manny problem. I'm not saying Manny's right every time -- no manager is -- but he plays the hand he's been dealt as well as anyone could.

Finally, we can slam Hinckley til the cows come home but no baseball team in the long history of the game ever won with ZERO runs on the board. Jurrjens was superb last night but there were ample opportunities to plate a run. The players, not their manager, failed to execute. Not to let him off the hook because he failed utterly to do his job, but even if Hinckley got out of that jam the Nats still wouldn't have won the game.

I think this team has tremendous potential... they play tough every night and they're in every ball game. They have big holes on the roster and weaknesses that hurt them. The manager isn't one of them.

Posted by: outsider6 | April 23, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse

I am sorry but Manny is to blame on bringing in Hinckley. I am not sure what he has been watching concerning him, but the guy hasn't been getting it done since spring training. I watched him give up 5 runs in one inning against the Mets at Viera when the Nats were winning 5-0. The game ended in a tie. The guy couldn't get an out. There had to be someone else in the bullpen that could have done better. Leaving Mock in would have been a better decision.

Posted by: Wallpass | April 23, 2009 11:54 AM | Report abuse

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