Nats Fall Vic­tim to Trou­bling Trend

An Early Deficit Re­sults in a Loss

The Washington Post Sunday - - Sports - By Barry Svr­luga

K Di­a­mond­backs 7,

Na­tion­als 1

At some point, when this cold snap is over and spring re­ally sets in, the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als will host a game at RFK Sta­dium. Their pitcher, whoever it may be, will re­tire the op­po­si­tion in or­der in the first in­ning. And the Na­tion­als will come to the plate, string some hits to­gether, and — close your eyes and al­low your­self to imag­ine it — take a lead.

That did not hap­pen last night, when 16,617 hardy souls sat through the latest de­ba­cle, a 7- 1 loss to the Ari­zona Di­a­mond­backs in tem­per­a­tures bet­ter suited for the Idi­tarod than base­ball. Right- han­der John Pat­ter­son, in dire need of putting be­hind a shaky Open­ing Day start, al­lowed three runs in the first, and the copier ma­chine that seems to spit out the Na­tion­als’ re­sults cranked up again — fall be­hind early, quiet the crowd, and have a tough time re­cov­er­ing, a good recipe to lose five of

six to start the sea­son.

“ We’re dy­ing to get a lead,” Man­ager Manny Acta said.

A sim­ple anal­y­sis, but one that leads di­rectly to the first anom­aly of this young sea­son. In fall­ing be­hind 6- 0 last night, the Na­tion­als have the dis­tinc­tion of be­com­ing the only team to trail by at least 4- 0 in their first six games of the year. In fact, ac­cord­ing to the Elias Sports Bureau, no team since 1900, when mod­ern day records be­gin, had done so even five straight times.

All of this leads to some amaz­ing sta­tis­ti­cal fac­toids, none of them good for the Na­tion­als. The club has now played 54 in­nings and has held the lead af­ter ex­actly one of those frames — the ninth in­ning on Wed­nes­day, when Wash­ing­ton ral­lied for three runs and their only win of the year, 7- 6 over the Florida Mar­lins. An early 1- 0 lead? Hasn’t hap­pened, in part be­cause the Na­tion­als’ ERA in the first in­ning is 12.00.

“ You don’t want to be in that sit­u­a­tion,” said right fielder Austin Kearns, who con­trib­uted the Na­tion­als’ run on a homer in the sixth. “ But you can’t sit here and say, ‘ Oh, we’re in a hole.’ You take that approach, things get worse be­fore they get bet­ter. That’s the last thing we need to be think­ing.”

But as much talk as there has been dur­ing this hel­la­cious first week that there is no need to even iden­tify, much less press, any sort of panic but­ton, there are in­di­ca­tions that the club’s hit­ters are grip­ping the bat tightly al­ready. Wash­ing­ton hit­ters have come to the plate 24 times with run­ners in scor­ing po­si­tion in their three games against Ari­zona. They are still look­ing for their first hit, the main rea­son they have but five runs in the se­ries.

“ We need to do bet­ter,” short­stop Felipe Lopez said.

Pat­ter­son might fall into that cat­e­gory as well. He at­trib­uted his strug­gles in a 32⁄ 3- in­ning, sixrun out­ing against Florida to a me­chan­i­cal flaw that hin­dered his ve­loc­ity. But on a night when the tem­per­a­ture quickly dipped into the 30s and the wind chill made it feel much colder, the 29- year- old from the warm weather of east Texas looked un­com­fort­able from the start. He walked two of the first three men he faced, then gave up a two- run dou­ble to Chad Tracy on a fast­ball he was merely try­ing to guide in for a strike.

“ I don’t think you ever re­ally, truly get loose,” Pat­ter­son said. “ I never broke a sweat. It’s hard to hold on to the ball. The ball’s real slick. You can’t get any mois­ture on your fin­gers. . . . Tonight, it was tough.”

But af­ter fall­ing be­hind 3- 0 in the first, Pat­ter­son found him­self pump­ing his fist when he worked out of a one- out, first- and- third jam in the fifth. Com­ing off of el­bow surgery that lim­ited him to eight starts last sea­son, Acta and pitch­ing coach Randy St. Claire be­lieve Pat­ter­son still needs to build arm strength.

“ He can’t be top- shape, 100 per­cent John Pat­ter­son yet,” Acta said.

What he gave them, how­ever un­re­mark­able, was min­i­mal dam­age, leav­ing af­ter 88 pitches, just 44 strikes, and a 3- 0 deficit.

“ I gave us a chance in some re­ally, re­ally tough con­di­tions,” he said. “ That’s a pos­i­tive.”

Such pos­i­tive pins must be searched for in this haystack of neg­a­tiv­ity. The Na­tion­als might have helped Pat­ter­son out with one big hit, but his op­po­nent hap­pened to be the reign­ing Na­tional League Cy Young Award win­ner, Bran­don Webb. The man with “ the best sinker in the game,” ac­cord­ing to Kearns, shrugged off base run­ners as if he knew he would get the ground ball he needed. First and sec­ond with two outs in the sec­ond: ground­out from Brian Sch­nei­der. Bases loaded with one out in the third: dou­ble play ball from Dmitri Young. Man on sec­ond with two down in the fifth: ground­out from Kory Casto.

Af­ter­ward, Acta was pressed about his club’s in­abil­ity to be com­pet­i­tive, with four of five losses by at least six runs. He shrugged it off.

“ It’s not go­ing to be an easy month,” Acta said. “ I’ve been say­ing all along: I’m very pos­i­tive and up­beat and all of that. But I have never been telling any of you guys it’s go­ing to be easy.”


Ari­zona’s Chris Sny­der is greeted at the plate by Or­lando Hud­son af­ter scor­ing on a dou­ble by Eric Byrnes off reliever Je­sus Colome in the sixth in­ning.

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