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Padres 4, Nats 1

Petco Park, the most pitcher-friendly stadium in baseball, is conducive to small numbers, quick games, and 0-for hitters. I swear, if Tony Gwynn had played here, he would have been a .266 hitter or something. Petco's center field wall actually extends across the middle third of the field, a straight wall -- like the horizon line. In the fourth inning Tuesday night, Ryan Zimmerman ripped a ball about 400 feet into the right-center field gap, a mere double against the wall. Any other park, that sails over the fence. But, as Zimmerman said after this game, almost imitating a sing-song taunt: "Not hee-ere."

Here, Washington is struggling to score runs. Big-time. As evidence: Tuesday's 4-1 loss to San Diego, just the latest episode where the offense struggled and one or two minor mistakes proved especially costly. In the first two games of this series, the Nationals have scored a total of two runs. They're hitting just .194. Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham are a combined 0-for-15 with eight strikeouts.

The most costly mistake in this game came in the seventh, when baserunner Elijah Dukes was picked off one pitch before a Josh Bard home run.

"You don't know that you're gonna get that home run if we weren't picked off," Jim Riggleman said. "But you can't get picked off either way. The issue is getting picked off, it's not the fact that we got a home run afterwards. We're equally at fault if we get picked off whether we hit the home run next or not."

This road trip has taken a sour turn for the Nats. They've lost five in a row and six of eight overall. Really, their offensive struggles extend back to the St. Louis series, but there, they faced some excellent starting pitchers. (Smoltz, Wainwright, etc.) But now, they're getting shut down by guys like Tim Stauffer and Clayton Richard.

"We've hit some balls hard, too," Zimmerman said. "It's just one of those times where it seems like everything we hit gets caught. You've got to give their guys credit, too. We've just got to keep battling through it."

By Chico Harlan  |  September 2, 2009; 1:23 AM ET
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Next: Lineups From Petco


Least suprising sentence I read was the one describing Dukes getting picked off. Unless he hits a home run he should just go straight back to the dugout.

Posted by: soundbloke | September 2, 2009 2:13 AM | Report abuse

Dukes is done. There is no way Rizzo keeps him over the winter. All he is trying to do his get his trade value up over a bucket of balls.....He will start off at AAA next year and will be traded by June 1 for whatever he will bring.

On Riggs...."They are going to play in some meaningful games there." comment is not going to help his cause at all. Why would you say something like that.....just stupid and it shows that he like Acta has been too exposed to losing over the years. Riggs not yet to the crushing pace of Acta but this team must hire someone who has won, expects to win now and does not have these types of quotes or even thoughts in his head. Development at the MLB level has to stop or we will be looking at crowds for none Philly games of 10K.

Posted by: JayBeee | September 2, 2009 6:48 AM | Report abuse

Chico forgot to add that Dukes was picked-off 'AGAIN' What ever positives he brings to the plate with his bat, is lost by that five cent head of his...

Posted by: bromisky | September 2, 2009 6:48 AM | Report abuse

I admit it, I feel asleep and wasn't watching or commenting as the last pitch was thrown. :( Sorry, 222.

Now we know, it was Nyjer, Nyjer and all Nyjer.

Posted by: Nats_Lady | September 2, 2009 6:58 AM | Report abuse

Riggleman is gone after this year. To quote Bob Dole (or maybe it was just the SNL imitation of him) you know it, I know it, and the American people know it.

Posted by: FromTheEclipseThePlaceThatBobCarpenterCallsHome | September 2, 2009 7:16 AM | Report abuse

Considering Dukes' much-documented gaffes, I'm actually surprised he runs to his correct position between innings. How does this clown even manage to show up for games on time? Oh, yeah, right. He doesn't. Mr. Rizzo, here's your first offseason trade bait. Dukes, Goozie and Bergy for a bag of balls, or a Single-A pitching prospect. Two bums.

Posted by: Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me | September 2, 2009 7:53 AM | Report abuse

I totally agree with Nats Lady. we're a completely different team without Nyjer! Amazing to me(and I go back to the Griffith Stadium days)to see the team revert back to the "pre-Nyjer "days.The energy is gone-and of course the huge # of strikeouts in clutch situations don't help either.

Posted by: ripndot | September 2, 2009 7:54 AM | Report abuse

I think (or hope) that the gloom over the effect of Nyjer's absence is premature. Obviously we're far weaker without him, but I hope it isn't true that the rest of the team is content to be deflated for the rest of the season.

Posted by: Section109 | September 2, 2009 8:18 AM | Report abuse

I sure hope we do not end up in the category of not just perennial losers, but losers over decades. Look at the Cubs or Pirates, or KC or the Orioles. It's a long list. Different owners and GMs, different managers, same results.

Whatever the ingredients are, it's not easy finding a way to arrive at a winning organization, particularly if cash is limited. Even the winning Braves faded every time but one when they got to the post-season. What fun is that?

I think we need to come to grips with the fact that the Nats are destined to be a AAA organization and buy tickets at prices commensurate with that fact. (i.e., the cheap seats)

Posted by: JohnRDC | September 2, 2009 8:50 AM | Report abuse

OK, there's a lot of room at Petco Park, but that does not explain the offensive stupor (Gwynn would have hit fine at Petco). The pitching they faced in St. Louis was a convenient excuse, and much as I (really, really) like Morgan, the Nats can score runs without him. That the offense shuts down just as the pitching gets almost presentable is just . . . so 2009.

Posted by: KenNat | September 2, 2009 8:54 AM | Report abuse

For me, another turning point was J.D. Martin failing to properly field two consecutive bunts.

Posted by: SilverSpring8 | September 2, 2009 9:01 AM | Report abuse

I think its funny that when Dukes gets 4 hits in a game everyone talks about how talented he is, but when he makes a mental mistake, he gets thrown him right under the bus. He's far from a major issue with why this team sucks. I think the infamous "what have you done for me lately" Redskins mentality has boiled over...

Posted by: TheycallmeThriiiiiiilledge | September 2, 2009 9:10 AM | Report abuse

SilverSpring, I agree. I'm not quite sure who's fault that was (Orr's for not covering first fast enough, Dunn's for rushing to the bunt when Martin clearly had a play on it), but good teams shouldn't be making those types of offensive gaffes (although the Yankees did pull a similar brain fart last night against the O's when AJ Burnett failed to cover first after Teixiera snagged a ground ball right by the bag and threw it towards first while falling forward, hehe). It's mistakes like that that make me shake my head in disgust, ask "WHY?", and change the channel.

Posted by: NatMeg | September 2, 2009 9:12 AM | Report abuse

Sadly this current losing streak maybe Riggs undoing, Dukes is a numbskull how many times do you have to get picked off before you pay attention! Dibble always speaks highly of Dukes ability,no one doubts his ability but his mental approach, that is another story i'm not sure this kid will ever reach his potential he seems bent on being a triple A prospect.

Posted by: dargregmag | September 2, 2009 9:19 AM | Report abuse

Don't recall if Chico or anybody mentioned this before, but the Padres announcers last night mentioned that J.D. Martin was the draft pick the Indians got when Manny left.

Posted by: nats24 | September 2, 2009 9:20 AM | Report abuse

5 game losing streak. We've scored 8 runs in the last 32 innings... it's all Nyjer's fault. This team just isn't the same without him. He makes the offense go, without him everyone struggles and there is no spark or energy. We are in a funk offensively and we will reach 100 losses very soon. We've been getting good starting pitching but we cannot score any runs. That's been the story all year. When the runs are there, the pitching is not. When the pitching is there, the runs are not. But there are always errors, that hasn't changed. :/

Posted by: rachel216 | September 2, 2009 9:24 AM | Report abuse

I've been thinking it since the all-star break, and now I get to heartily agree with Nats_Lady ... I think Nyjer really is the keystone to the team's productivity.

He adds that critical "one more good bat" to the lineup, he gets on base. When he gets on base he's fast enough to be a bother to the pitchers. His speed and distraction mean that pitchers have to throw fastballs, with a slidestep, or just lose some concentration and control. All of that adds up to more hits and walks for the Nats.

Tony Plush is the Nationals run catalyst.

I'm in serious fan-mode about him, i know, but I think there are good enough baseball reasons to be so.

And I'm miffed that he slid head-first and broke his hand doing it. How soon can he start training on feet-first slides?

Posted by: ihatewalks | September 2, 2009 9:30 AM | Report abuse

Make sure you watch the tape before throwing Dukes under the bus. Even Nyjer, or Lou Brock or Maury Wills, for those of you of my vintage, would get picked off by a move that's a balk. I'm surprised that neither Riggleman or Chico mentioned it.

Posted by: Section222 | September 2, 2009 9:36 AM | Report abuse

I like Nyjer I really do and I'm miffed that he got hurt and is out for the rest of the season. What is good about this though is that he hopefully has learned that sliding feet first is the way to go.

Also this just goes to show how far away this ball club is from being really good, why should one player affect the team this much? Why do we only have one good lead off man? And why can't our 3-4-5 lineup crush any balls as of late? I just don't get it.

Posted by: Elbaryn | September 2, 2009 9:37 AM | Report abuse

"Look at the Cubs or Pirates, or KC or the Orioles. It's a long list. Different owners and GMs, different managers, same results."

One of these things is not like the others. The Cubs have been in the playoffs four times in the last dozen years, the other three teams COMBINED have just one winning season in that time. Big difference.

Posted by: FromTheEclipseThePlaceThatBobCarpenterCallsHome | September 2, 2009 9:48 AM | Report abuse

Not sure if it's time to throw Dukes under the bus but I'm also not sure if I'm letting him have a seat. If the Nats want to field a competitive team next year, they'll need to have a legitimate RF who can hit and hit with power with some consistency. So far, Dukes hasn't been that guy but you can't give up on him yet.

I think the rest of the season will be crucial for him (it might be the only real reason to watch these games). If Dukes isn't playing any better then than he is now, the Nats need to look for somebody else as an everyday RF'er.

Posted by: baltova1 | September 2, 2009 10:19 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Section222. Of all the people in here bashing Dukes for getting picked off last night, how many actually saw the play? That was a complete balk by the pitcher and even Rickey Henderson would have been picked off by that move. Dibble and Carpy mentioned afterwards that this pitcher did the same move when they played St. Louis a little while ago and that LaRussa was irate that the umps didn't call balks when he picked off two of the Cardinals runners.

Dukes may not be a perfect player (yet), but he is worth keeping around. He does make more mental mistakes than I prefer, but I still think he's going to come around and be a BIG contributor to a major-league club (hopefully for the Nats).

Posted by: erocks33 | September 2, 2009 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Also, the Padres have made some ridiculous defensive plays in both games. Any (or all) of those balls drop in, and who knows what happens ...

Posted by: erocks33 | September 2, 2009 10:22 AM | Report abuse

46-87 5 years down the road. And the Redskins think they have a ticket distribution problem. Dats some good suck on it and like it.

Posted by: Brue | September 2, 2009 10:34 AM | Report abuse

Dukes is done. There is no way Rizzo keeps him over the winter. All he is trying to do his get his trade value up over a bucket of balls.....

I keep telling myself you can't get fair value for him because of his flaws and then I look around and see that there is always someone looking to hit the lottery. The Pirates took Milledge, the Cubs signed Bradley, the Red Sox signed an aging and injurred Smoltz, the D'Backs and the Brewers both took FLOP... Never ceases to amaze me. Was it P.T. Barnum who said "There's a sucker born every minute"?

Posted by: natbiscuits | September 2, 2009 10:37 AM | Report abuse


That depends on your definition of value. Certainly I don't see us getting anything like a finished product pro for him but, he might fetch a decent prospect. If you show me a guys with raw power, I'll show you a GM stupid enough to believe he can teach him focus and discipline. Especially if he is still young.

I remember this guy who used to manage the Reds always used to pick up those sort of guys. Can't say I remember what happened to him though...

Posted by: soundbloke | September 2, 2009 11:01 AM | Report abuse

You should know by now that Rizzo is all about consistency - in character and performance. Mental errors and bonehead plays will get you a ticket out of Washington real quick! Dukes will follow Belliard and Flop once the season ends. Jaybeee is right... Character and consistency win out over "tools".

Posted by: 1of9000 | September 2, 2009 11:30 AM | Report abuse

I think Dukes ought to be shipped out too. Looked at his stats, in 08 he was Brad Hawpe offensively - OPS+ 125 - but with significantly better defensive numbers (a surprise). This year he's Jeff Francouer in a good year or Ryan Church. Not so bad.

But - his baserunning, whether there was a balk last night or not, is the kind of mental approach that the Nats shouldn't tolerate. His numbers tell me that he's replaceable.

The emphasis on accountability points to letting him go, and I agree.

Posted by: utec | September 2, 2009 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Is it settled yet that Bryce Harper is going to be available for next year's draft? I just read the SI article written about him in June, and that was certainly enough to convince me that the worst record in baseball is a good thing if that kid is going to be available.

Of course, my hoping for or against the worst record is immaterial. With only 29 games to go, the Nats are 5 1/2 games "ahead" of KC in that race. With Nyjer Morgan out, I don't think the Nats will be in a position to allow KC to make up that ground.


Posted by: kevincostello | September 2, 2009 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Yes, it doesn't look good (or it does look good?) on the worst record front, with all but one of our remaining series being against division opponents. The non-division opponent would be Belli's Dodgers.

In other news, nice Boone-related blog entry on the Houston Chronicle site:

He didn't get into last night's game but perhaps today. I watched some of the game on WGN and the Cubs broadcasters were giving him props when they discussed call-ups for both teams. They also noted that he'd lost 15 lbs. at one point during the surgery and recovery process. Dude didn't have a lot of poundage to spare, IMO.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | September 2, 2009 11:54 AM | Report abuse

53 rbi in 284 ABs ain't bad. The team needs offense. They keep trading for single A pitchers, meantime they have zero depth on offense. People crying about Dukes is ignorant. All he needs to do is work on not pulling everything and keeping his hands back on the breaking balls, and he's good to go. Hell, if he got 550 ABs this year, he'd have 100 rbi. The reason his rbi total isn't higher is the same reason that Willingham's isn't higher - Acta was too dumb to establish a rotation and get them a proper amount of ABs so they wouldn't get cold. If you think he's tough to watch, just check out Maxwell for a whole season - that's REAL pain.

Posted by: Brue | September 2, 2009 11:57 AM | Report abuse

I think @erocks33 is right about Dukes. He has made some mental mistakes I admit, but he has incredible raw power and athletic ability. Did anyone catch how he ran out his infield single early in the game last night? Total effort. It's just not fair to put him in the Millege/FLop category. I don't think you'll get a better prospect than he is now if you trade him.

Posted by: Section222 | September 2, 2009 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Agree with Baltova1 on Dukes's future with Nats. This is a critical month for him.

Brue makes good point about Dukesie's productivity--when he is driving in runs in the #6 spot the offense is hugely better. Let's see what he does now that he's healthy. But the guy is 25 years' old already and it looks like he'll never be able to get maximum use of his speed on the basepaths.(Forget about whether that was a balk last night or not--he's been abysmal all year on the bases.) I'm assuming Marquis is working with him, but no results yet.

On a positive note, how about Dunn's improved glovework at 1B? Looks like he's found a position. Now that Ronnie (the second coming of JT Snow) Beliard is gone, please, Rigs, keep Dunner in the games--no more defensive replacements!

Posted by: CapPeterson1 | September 2, 2009 12:14 PM | Report abuse

But Brue,

Brains don't fix just like defense doesn't slump.

Posted by: soundbloke | September 2, 2009 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Sadly this current losing streak maybe Riggs undoing, Dukes is a numbskull how many times do you have to get picked off before you pay attention! Dibble always speaks highly of Dukes ability,no one doubts his ability but his mental approach, that is another story i'm not sure this kid will ever reach his potential he seems bent on being a triple A prospect.

Posted by: dargregmag | September 2, 2009 9:19 AM

You are way off base on this one as the pitcher balked IMO and others agree too. It happened and shouldn't be a way to slam the guy.

Yes, earlier in the season Dukes made some horrible baserunning mistakes but lets not compare those mistakes to this. Pickoffs happen, just ask Nyjer Morgan.

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | September 2, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

A lot of folks felt that was a balk last night ... I suppose Dukes was trying to do what Nyjer does better and that's make something happen.

This one is on Riggleman. You can't field a line up against any major league team that features a .111 hitter or a .222 hitter in the lead off spot. The second spot wasn't really sound with Guzman but the choices he has recently made are far, far worst. I think it starts right there with Riggleman's line up card. And as BinM mentioned about Tim Foli he now has a few scuff marks as far as an extension and getting rid of the "interim" title.

One could use the excuse that better hitters were left in Syracuse with the Chiefs to aid in their attempt to make the playoffs. But you know what, they are just as anemic offensively and really could have used Padilla, Morse and Dukes in their 2 game series with the Yankees. Recently promoted AA utility guy Leonard Davis betting 3rd?

So, really this month is probably going to more about Riggleman than Dukes. Right now he is moving quickly toward the door.

If they do trade Dukes you can bet that Rizzo is going to want something akin to a McCutheon in return. (Perhaps Dukes along with some pitching?) Dukes looks to be that good eventually. Four strike outs by Willingham whose bat has really chilled sort of underscores that for me. Dukes can do a lot of things for a team with the right attitude and experience.

This is a critical month. It sets the tone for next year. It can be used to give notice that the Nats do not plan on spending even one minute longer in last place if they can help it. But right now it is looking like an easy coast to Bryce Harper. IMO that is absolutely the wrong attitude to take.

Posted by: periculum | September 2, 2009 12:41 PM | Report abuse

I recall Morgan getting picked off, and also oversliding the base.

Posted by: markfromark | September 2, 2009 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Right now I would consider putting Dukes in the lead off spot. He is going to be better than Maxwell. He has the speed. He needs to learn to work walks instead of striking out. That is a good spot to do that in given that his job would be to get on base for the guys following him. I don't think Dukes the hitter is someone the pitchers can "relax" with. He does not afford that luxury in spite of his batting average. Everyone knows he is capable of having a huge game.

Pete Orr is not a #2 hitter. He shouldn't even be in the lineup. Talk about AAAA? And hey didn't Martin have his best start yet? Hopefully, he may yet learn some "craft" and "craftiness" from Livan. Martin is not AAAA. He maybe middle relief and not a starter but I think he has proven he can be something more than AAAA.

At the #2 spot they are stuck with Guzman, but he is languishing with bunions. (There is surgery for that?) Morse would be the optimal choice but where do you put him on the field? Again, I think they should bring up Norris Hopper and see if he can be the same Nyjer-like player he was with the Reds before TJ surgery. He is very good at getting on base and he is a good enough fielder. Or you could put Maxwell at #2 spot and wait for him to figure out major league pitching?

Posted by: periculum | September 2, 2009 12:51 PM | Report abuse

"Yes, earlier in the season Dukes made some horrible baserunning mistakes but lets not compare those mistakes to this. Pickoffs happen, just ask Nyjer Morgan."

Pickoffs count as a caught stealing in the stats line. So let's look at the stats. Nyjer Morgan with the Nats this year: 24 stolen bases, 7 caught stealing. Dukes: 2 stolen bases, 10 caught stealing.

Conclusion from this: Morgan is perhaps a bit over-aggressive on the basepaths at times. Dukes is just plain stupid on the basepaths. It's a lot easier to tamp down aggressiveness a bit than it is to stop being stupid.

Posted by: FromTheEclipseThePlaceThatBobCarpenterCallsHome | September 2, 2009 12:52 PM | Report abuse

"Dukes: 2 stolen bases, 10 caught stealing."

Clearly the guy needs some training. They have all these former small ball types. Riggleman is a small ball manager (suicide squeezes), where's the beef? The guy is still young, in fact younger than Nyjer who is a very fast guy. Teach the guy.

Posted by: periculum | September 2, 2009 12:58 PM | Report abuse

BTW, everyone is ignoring the fact that Willingham struck out 4 times. Comparing his fielding with Dukes? Dukes has the potential to hit like Willingham has this year.

Dukes has value, he is still learning, but the biggest thing compared to Willingham, he still has a large potential upside. He is improving. Just a lot more slowly than everyone would like to see. But he has had more than his share of off-the-field and personality problems. Those must have affected him. For his part he has to be willing to learn to correct his shortcomings including the base running category.

Posted by: periculum | September 2, 2009 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Snarkup, er, lineup in new post.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | September 2, 2009 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Until Dukes stops swinging at every first pitch, I wouldn't dare have him hitting leadoff. With the roster as it currently stands, there really isn't any player suitable to bat leadoff. Perhaps Riggleman is waiting until they call up Desmond and then he'll have him leadoff? With Guzzie's bunions, this will give the Nats a great chance to see what Desmond can do in the field and at the plate ...

Posted by: erocks33 | September 2, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse

While we're on Dukes' case, don't forget that fly ball to home plate, the one that Martin--luckily and properly backing up, caught.

I think Dukes has a lot of talent and raw power, and I much prefer him to Thrilledge. He really can hustle, and his bat can get nice and HOT. It seems to me he needs a smart veteran (Nyjer?) to mentor him. Not a coach, not some "authority figure" but someone who could show him some baseball cunning and tricks to go along with all that power and energy.

Posted by: Nats_Lady | September 2, 2009 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Dukes is not improving. His numbers were far better last year. There are lots of reasons of course, but the numbers don't support that he's better. Was last year the real deal, or has the league figured him out? I fear the latter.

Posted by: utec | September 2, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse

>But Brue,

Brains don't fix just like defense doesn't slump.

Posted by: soundbloke

He's exercised a lot more class and self-control than you have this year.

Posted by: Brue | September 2, 2009 4:36 PM | Report abuse

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