Nationals Revert to Form

Boston's Coco Crisp beats the throw to the Nationals' Robert Fick in the fourth inning. Crisp would later score on a double by Gabe Kapler, the first of two runs that inning for the Red Sox.
Boston's Coco Crisp beats the throw to the Nationals' Robert Fick in the fourth inning. Crisp would later score on a double by Gabe Kapler, the first of two runs that inning for the Red Sox. (By Winslow Townson -- Associated Press)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 20, 2006

BOSTON, June 19 -- Tony Armas Jr. could have relished this moment, pitching Monday night at Fenway Park, where his father once roamed the outfield and slugged home runs, enough that he led the American League in the summer of 1984 wearing the uniform of the Boston Red Sox. Hours prior to the game, the younger Armas stood in the visitors' dugout at Fenway, T-shirt on his back, iPod in his ears, bouncing to the beat. He seemed ready.

He was not. And because of that, the Washington Nationals allowed a castoff from the lowly Kansas City Royals -- Red Sox right-hander Kyle Snyder -- to beat them, 6-3, Monday night, an outing in which the Nationals showed none of the signs of the momentum they created with a stirring weekend back home at RFK Stadium.

Armas lasted all of 3 2/3 innings, and it took him 81 excruciating pitches to get through that. He gave up leads of 2-0 and 3-2. He allowed four runs in that time, and pushed his ERA to a season-high 4.44. Take that, and consider the assessment of Nationals Manager Frank Robinson.

"If our starting pitchers don't go deep into a game," Robinson said, "we're in trouble."

They were in trouble Monday. Thus, the Nationals -- who helped put the Red Sox in first place in the American League East by beating the arch-rival New York Yankees twice over the weekend -- helped keep the Sox there Monday. They managed all of four hits off Snyder -- making his first start for Boston after being claimed off waivers over the weekend -- and seven overall, although they faced the Red Sox' much-maligned bullpen for four innings. The sum total against Jermaine Van Buren, Javier Lopez, Rudy Seanez and Mike Timlin, none of them a marquee name? Three hits and no runs.

"We just didn't get it done," said Robert Fick, who played first base.

They didn't get it done in any area, and it started with Armas. The bullpen entered Monday's game a bit taxed anyway. Gary Majewski was unavailable after throwing two innings in Sunday's dramatic win over the Yankees, one provided by Ryan Zimmerman's walk-off, two-run homer. Left-hander Mike Stanton has been battling a balky knee. The situation was so bleak that the Nationals optioned utility man Brendan Harris back to Class AAA New Orleans after the game with the intention of calling up reliever Jason Bergmann on Tuesday.

"We need a pitcher," Robinson said, and all because the starters are beginning to fade into a pattern that defined the first part of the season, when the team was horrid.

"We're not short of work down there," said Stanton, who threw two-thirds of an inning and allowed a run.

That all starts with Armas. Despite the fact that he has shown flashes of his potential this year -- winning six times, throwing seven scoreless innings against Atlanta, allowing Milwaukee just two hits over six innings -- some members of the organization are frustrated by his approach, his seeming inability to get ahead of hitters. The pattern leads to inordinately high pitch counts; he led the majors in pitches per batter faced (4.09) entering Monday's game.

Nothing changed against the Red Sox. Jose Vidro gave the Nationals the lead in the first with his fifth home run of the year, and the Nationals made it 2-0 in the second on Brian Schneider's RBI single. But Armas gave it back in the bottom of the inning, allowing run-scoring hits to Coco Crisp, the Sox' seventh-place hitter, and Alex Cora, who hits ninth.

Jose Guillen put the Nationals up 3-2 with a monstrous homer off Snyder in the third -- a blast that glanced off one of the giant Coca-Cola bottles on the light pole above the famed "Green Monster" in left. But Armas walked two more men in the third, and by the fourth, the Sox drove him from the game when they scored twice and to go up 4-3. After Mark Loretta doubled, Armas was pulled.

"He wasn't getting ahead of guys," said Schneider, the catcher. "He was going 1-0, 2-0. He kept getting behind. Any team's going to be tough when you pitch behind guys. Especially with a lineup like this, you're going to get into some trouble."

So Robinson went to get Armas, replacing him with rookie Saul Rivera. His last two outings have been his worst of the year, and he has failed to get out of the fourth in either of them. The sum totals of those two efforts: 6 2/3 innings pitched, 14 hits, 11 earned runs, 5 walks and 3 strikeouts.

"What can I say, man?" Armas said. "It's just one of those things. It seems like everything goes through [the infield]. Get a ground ball, it goes through. A line drive goes through. I don't know. I'm not making my pitches. I'm not locating my pitches. I don't know."

Snyder, meanwhile, composed himself against the Nationals and set down the last seven men he faced. He was pulled after five innings by Boston Manager Terry Francona, wary that he hadn't pitched in 10 days. Now, the former first-round pick has been cast aside by the worst team in baseball and picked up his third major league win for one of the best, all in 10 days.

"Words really can't explain it," Snyder said. "It has been a roller coaster of emotions."

In the other clubhouse, Armas might have said the same thing. But after he showered and dressed, he composed himself and walked out into the night. Because right-hander John Patterson is expected to return from the disabled list Friday, and the Nationals have two off days in the next week, Armas's next start has already been pushed back. After that, who knows?

© 2006 The Washington Post Company