Nats Fail to Impress Bosses

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 13, 2006

ATLANTA, May 12 -- For five innings, they sat in a row. Jim Bowden, in the front row, had Stan Kasten to his immediate right. Two seats over, sandwiched between his two sons, sat Mark Lerner. It amounted to a pecking order of sorts for the Washington Nationals, the current general manager sitting next to the future team president sitting down from one of the new owners. They took in the beginnings of what became a 6-2 victory for the Atlanta Braves, a crisp and efficient effort in which veteran right-hander John Smoltz mastered the Nationals for his second complete game of the year.

"That was Smoltz," Washington center fielder Marlon Byrd said, "being Smoltz."

And it was the Nationals, unfortunately, being the Nationals, racking up as many errors as they had hits, which would be four, including two errors by left fielder Alfonso Soriano. Right-hander Ramon Ortiz, still winless on the season, kept the game tight into the seventh, when the Nationals trailed just 3-2, but he and reliever Jason Bergmann combined to allow three runs in that frame alone

That was that. Smoltz needed all of two hours and 14 minutes to rid himself of the Nationals, who have now lost three straight on this nine-game road trip. Could there have been a hangover from Thursday night's calamitous 11-inning loss in Cincinnati, when they coughed up a three-run lead and allowed Ken Griffey Jr. a walk-off, three-run homer?

"Definitely," Byrd said.

"That's a no-brainer," catcher Matthew LeCroy said.

All that is important for the here and now, because the players who make up the current roster believe they are better than this. But the most significant developments came merely by the fact that Bowden, Kasten and Lerner all met and chatted, if only for half a game.

Lerner and his two sons flew back to Washington Friday night, but Bowden and Kasten will continue to talk over the weekend. Bowden, the general manager since November 2004, has long been considered a favorite of the Lerner family, and he hugged Mark when they met on the field before the game Friday night.

But when Mark Lerner was asked whether he or his father, family patriarch Theodore N. Lerner, would have any input on choosing the general manager, Lerner said, "I think it's going to be Stan's decision."

"I'm sure he'll make recommendations," Lerner continued. "But again, this is his team to run. It's got to be his decisions on what he does."

Kasten and Bowden know each other a bit because Bowden's decade as general manager of the Cincinnati Reds largely overlapped Kasten's as president of the Braves. But they are now truly feeling each other out. Kasten, though, said this should not be construed as an interview for Bowden.

"That's not at all how anyone should be viewing any of these things," Kasten said. "I'm learning right now. That's what I'm doing. I hope to learn an awful lot, make some along the way."

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