By Mark Schlabach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 15, 2005
During a 2-hour 40-minute rain delay before last night's game against the Chicago Cubs, the Washington Nationals traded for an outfielder, solved the drainage problems on the field in RFK Stadium and figured out how to win a baseball game again, too.
But after pitching ace Livan Hernandez left the game in the seventh inning with swelling in his right knee, the Nationals probably wish it had rained all night. After closer Chad Cordero made things interesting in the ninth, allowing the Cubs to score a run and get the potential winning runners on base, the Nationals held on for a 4-3 victory and snapped their three-game losing streak in front of a crowd of 42,829, their second-largest of the season.
Hernandez won his fifth game in a row, his longest winning streak since six consecutive victories during the 1997 season. Since allowing seven earned runs in an 8-4 loss at Philadelphia on opening day, Hernandez is 6-1 with a 3.12 ERA in his last eight starts.
But now the Nationals will have to wait for Hernandez to be examined by team doctors before today's finale against the Cubs. Leading 4-2 with one out in the seventh, Hernandez left after throwing two pitches to catcher Henry Blanco. He had a slight limp walking off the mound after allowing five hits and two earned runs and striking out six.
After Hernandez finally threw the first pitch around 9:45 p.m., following a thunderstorm that soaked the field, it didn't take the Nationals long to jump on Chicago starter Carlos Zambrano, who last season became the youngest Cub to play in an all-star game.
With the Nationals trailing 1-0, center fielder Brad Wilkerson led off the inning with a double to left. Jamey Carroll bunted back to Zambrano, who tried to throw out Wilkerson at third. But Zambrano's throw was high, Wilkerson was safe and Carroll reached on a fielder's choice.
After Zambrano struck out Jose Guillen for the first out, he hit Nick Johnson in the right elbow with a pitch to load the bases. Third baseman Vinny Castilla knocked in two runs with a sharp single to right to give the Nationals a 2-1 lead. Ryan Church hit Zambrano's first pitch into left, scoring Johnson to make it 3-1. Zambrano hit catcher Brian Schneider with a pitch to load the bases again, and then Christian Guzman's RBI single made it 4-1.
Before the game, Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden made his first in-season trade, acquiring outfielder Marlon Byrd for disgruntled former leadoff hitter Endy Chavez, who asked to be traded during spring training and had spent all but six days this season in the minor leagues.
"I see two players that need a change of scenery," Bowden said, during an interview last night in his suite at RFK Stadium. "I don't think either player was going to move forward in the organization they were in. I think this is one of those classic deals you hear about. I think both of them have ability, but I think both of them have to make adjustments if they're going to revive their career. Hopefully, Endy will do it in Philadelphia and Marlon will be able to do it here."
Bowden said Byrd, 27, would join the Nationals and could be available to play in today's game against the Cubs. He hit .308 in five games with the Phillies this year.
Byrd, who was ranked the Phillies' No. 1 prospect by Baseball America in 2002, hit .303 with 7 homers, 45 RBI and 11 stolen bases in 495 at-bats during the 2003 season. But his average slipped to .228 in 346 at-bats last season, and then he lost his starting job when the Phillies acquired Kenny Lofton.
"Frank really believes he can help Marlon make some adjustments," Bowden said. "Frank is one of the best hitting guys I've ever been around. He's a Hall of Famer and has a lot of wisdom. In my career, I've had a lot of reclamation projects. I'm not promising anything. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. But if you don't have a history of taking chances on guys like this, you'll never hit on guys like this."
Bowden said the club gave up on Chavez, who started 122 games for the then-Montreal Expos in center field last season. Chavez, 27, hit .277 and stole 32 bases in 2004, but drew only 30 walks and struck out 40 times in 502 at-bats. He has been hit by a pitch only once in 1,196 career at-bats. The Nationals couldn't persuade Chavez to bunt more and be more selective at the plate; he hit .212 and had a .257 on-base percentage -- walking twice in 37 plate appearances -- before he was demoted to Class AAA New Orleans.
"We tried with Endy," Bowden said. "I don't think I can help Endy. I hope Philadelphia can, but I couldn't do it."