Armas, Nationals Revert to Old Form

The Nationals' Nick Johnson is headed home as the Phillies' Mike Lieberthal waits for the ball in the second inning.
The Nationals' Nick Johnson is headed home as the Phillies' Mike Lieberthal waits for the ball in the second inning. (By George Widman -- Associated Press)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 31, 2006

PHILADELPHIA, May 30 -- There were plenty of high points, 1-2-3 innings in which Tony Armas Jr. looked like a competent, effective pitcher who could regularly win ballgames for the Washington Nationals. But really, all anyone needs to know about Armas's outing Tuesday night against the Philadelphia Phillies is that, with the bases loaded and the opposing pitcher at the plate, he simply could not throw a strike when nothing else was acceptable, and he walked home a run.

There was Armas in all his glory during Tuesday night's 4-2 loss to the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. He is equal parts intriguing and infuriating, a pitcher who either has the potential to be a consistent winner or a washed-up prospect whose time has passed. Both showed up in the Nationals' second straight loss, Armas's first since April 12.

Armas allowed all of five hits, and of his 113 pitches, only a handful were bad. But virtually all the bad ones were costly. The one that showed up on highlight reels was served up to Bobby Abreu, who hit a three-run homer in the fourth. That blow basically decided the game, because Phillies right-hander Brett Myers (4-2) allowed the Nationals three hits in his eight innings, the only damage coming on Marlon Byrd's two-run homer in the eighth.

But that was the damage against the Phillies. The problems Armas caused in 6 1/3 innings that were, at times, dominant, came when he walked Myers in the seventh when there was no place to put him.

"The real damage," Manager Frank Robinson said, "was the bases-loaded walk to the pitcher."

So it left the Nationals with an ominous feeling afterward. They are now 5-15 in games decided by one or two runs, exactly the types of games this team is supposed to win. They are fine when they rip out hit after hit, as they did in twice scoring 10 runs in victories over the Los Angeles Dodgers over the weekend. Their sum total, though, in two losses here: nine hits and four runs.

"For the rest of this road trip, and pretty much for the rest of this season, we've got to find a way to win 2-1 ballgames," shortstop Royce Clayton said. "We're not always going to throw up seven runs. . . . I can't remember the last time we won a game like that."

Thus, even before the finale of this three-game set on Wednesday afternoon, the Nationals have lost a series for the first time since they last were on the road, May 16-18 in Chicago. They will send Livan Hernandez, who last month allowed the Phillies six runs in a loss here, to the mound hoping to salvage one game here.

Myers was the opposite of Armas, unflappable even in the rare instances when there were problems. Abreu, the Phillies' right fielder, threw out Nick Johnson trying to score the first run of the game in the second on a single by Marlon Anderson, and the Nationals got Clayton to third with two outs in the fourth. But in the way of threats, that was it.

"He had a very good fastball today," said left fielder Alfonso Soriano. "And the breaking ball, that was good, too."

Soriano was the epitome of the Nationals' frustrations, going 0 for 4 with three strikeouts, all against Myers. "It seems like if Soriano doesn't give us a spark at the top of the lineup," Robinson said, "we don't get anything going."

Yet give Armas just a couple of pitches back, and maybe the entire game could have been different, even with hitless nights from the Nationals' best hitters -- Soriano, Jose Vidro, Johnson and Ryan Zimmerman.

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