Nats’ Chico Has Wild Night in Mi­ami

The Washington Post Sunday - - Sports - By Barry Svr­luga

Mar­lins 9, Na­tion­als 3

MI­AMI, April 21 — Get used to it, be­cause Matt Chico said it has hap­pened be­fore, and it’s likely to hap­pen again.

“ I’ve never seen it,” cen­ter fielder Ryan Church said.

Get the grue­some de­tails of the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als’ 9- 3 loss to the Florida Mar­lins on Satur­day night out of the way, and there are plenty. Chico, a rookie left- han­der, walked seven men — ty­ing the most by a ma­jor league pitcher this sea­son — in­clud­ing the op­pos­ing pitcher. Twice. On a to­tal of nine pitches. He threw 59 strikes and 53 balls.

“ It was just one of those days where I was just hav­ing trou­ble find­ing the zone,” Chico said, “ and I started to press a lit­tle bit more try­ing to throw strikes.”

Those num­bers had ev­ery­thing to do with why the Mar­lins ended their six- game los­ing streak, and why the Na­tion­als must wait un­til Sun­day to try to clinch their first se­ries win of the sea­son. But next month, next week, even by Sun-

day, this game will be long forgotten — ex­cept for one pitch. Flip on “ Sport­sCen­ter,” be­cause it just might be play­ing right now.

It came in the bot­tom of the first. Chico’s con­trol prob­lems al­ready were es­tab­lished, be­cause he walked the first two men he faced. With one out and the count 1- 0 on cleanup hit­ter Josh Willing­ham, catcher Brian Sch­nei­der called for a change- up. Chico gripped the ball with his left hand, and pre­pared to throw. But as his arm whipped through, the ball was no longer there.

“ It’s just one of those things,” Sch­nei­der said.

In­stantly, Chico trans­formed him­self into Nuke LaLoosh, the gas- throw­ing, who- knows- whereit’s- go­ing mi­nor league pitcher played by Tim Rob­bins in “ Bull Durham.” His arm fol­lowed through, but the ball shot off to the side.

“ It just missed,” Church dead­panned. “ Sch­nei­der was set up out­side.”

The ball car­ried over the Mar­lins dugout. It reached the stands. The sec­ond row of the stands.

“ It usu­ally hap­pens to me about three or four times a year,” Chico said.

“ He’s done it in the bullpen be­fore,” Man­ager Manny Acta said. “ It’s not any phys­i­cal [ or] men­tal thing.”

It was, how­ever, a bizarre thing, the wildest of wild pitches. Most in the an­nounced crowd of 24,107 rose to their feet, sev­eral wav­ing tow­els, do­ing their best to mock the 23- year- old, who might as well have stood naked on the grass be­hind the mound.

“ It just slipped right out,” Chico said. “ Kind of one of those where I went back and didn’t have a tight enough grip and it came right out of my hand.”

He took an­other ball, in­haled deeply, walked up to the rub­ber — and fired a strike to Willing­ham. Two pitches later, Sch­nei­der put his hand down to call an­other pitch for Willing­ham. Change- up.

“ I didn’t want him to think, ‘ Oh, [ shoot], I can’t throw a change- up’ ,” Sch­nei­der said.

Willing­ham swung through it, and Chico struck him out.

Had Chico col­lected him­self from there, “ the pitch” might have been a funny foot­note to a start that turned around. But the re­al­ity was that Chico took the Na­tion­als out of this game. He didn’t al­low the Mar­lins to hit a ball in fair ter­ri­tory un­til he had walked the bases full in the first, and that hit — on his 30th pitch — was a two- run sin­gle by Cody Ross.

His most sig­nif­i­cant sins, how­ever, came in en­su­ing in­nings. With one out in the sec­ond, he walked Ani­bal Sanchez, the op­pos­ing pitcher, on four pitches. The re­sult was pre­dictable: Hanley Ramirez jumped on a fat fast- ball and drilled it into the seats in left field, a two- run homer that made it 4- 1.

In the fifth, af­ter Chico had some­what bounced back to re­tire eight of nine hit­ters and the Na­tion­als had pulled within 4- 3, he did it again — only worse. Acta badly needed Chico to sur­vive the fifth, be­cause his bullpen is un­der ex­treme duress as it is, and Chico’s spot was due up sec­ond the fol­low­ing in­ning. Chico couldn’t do it, walk­ing eighth- place hit­ter Ja­son Wood to load the bases and, again, get to Sanchez.

The task should be among the sim­plest in base­ball: re­tire the pitcher.

“ That’s got to be an out,” Chico said. “ No mat­ter what.”

It wasn’t. Worse, Chico bounced a break­ing pitch in the dirt, a wild pitch that scored one run. He then walked Sanchez on a 3- 1 pitch. It was his last of the night.

“ The dam­age could have been worse,” Acta said. “ That wasn’t what we were look­ing for.”

Chico has had starts like this in the mi­nors. He has thrown pitches like that be­fore. This is, how­ever, the first time he has done so in the ma­jors. “ It was a blooper,” Sch­nei­der said.

One that could ap­pear over and over. He said it doesn’t mat­ter. He’s not much for high­lights — or low­lights — any­way.

“ I try not to watch them,” he said. “ I’m def­i­nitely not go­ing to watch that one.”


Matt Chico is­sued seven walks, two to Mar­lins pitcher Ani­bal Sanchez, and threw two wild pitches, in­clud­ing one in the first that slipped from his hand and landed in the stands.


A ball hit for a dou­ble by Florida’s Dan Ug­gla eludes the grasp of Ryan Church as Chris Snelling plays backup.

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