Another Bad Loss Caps Even Worse Start for Nats

Livan Hernandez
Livan Hernandez, who threw the first pitch in Nationals history, didn't allow a hit Sunday until Ryan Zimmerman's ground-rule double with two outs in the sixth. (Lawrence Jackson - AP)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 9, 2007

Consider the sum total of the last week for the Washington Nationals, and it is grim as grim could be, a collection of games that took seven days but somehow packed in a couple months' worth of misery. Cap it off with the indignity that took place yesterday at RFK Stadium -- one of their former pitchers, Livan Hernandez, had the gall to take a no-hitter into the sixth inning against them -- and the scene in the home clubhouse afterward was appropriate: near silence as the players packed up their bats, their gloves and their pride and prepared to travel to Atlanta, where a worse fate couldn't possibly lie.

Yesterday's 3-1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks completed a four-game sweep, one in which the Nationals managed all of six runs. They have now lost six of their first seven games, have never had a pitcher throw the ball while holding a lead, have lost starters Nook Logan and Cristian Guzman to injuries, failed to get a hit in their first 30 at-bats with runners in scoring position against Arizona, and have been outscored by an average of nearly four runs a game.

And there's 155 games to go.

"It was a tough week, no doubt about it," catcher Brian Schneider said. "Nobody wants to start like this."

The Nationals' front office did its best to prepare fans for what they feel is an essential step in rebuilding the major league roster, paring back payroll in hopes of spending more money when a revenue-generating new ballpark opens next season, all while retooling a moribund farm system. But in the meantime, the product on the field has been wretched, what with a team batting average of .245, a slugging percentage of .371, an ERA of 5.86.

That part, in a way, was expected, and both players and Manager Manny Acta insisted that -- beginning with the six-game road trip that starts tomorrow -- will get better. But the club's management, led by President Stan Kasten, also had to deal with myriad off-field problems in the first week.

Opening Day was roughly 5,000 short of a sellout. Frigid weather helped lead to the three smallest crowds at RFK since baseball returned to Washington in 2005, including the 17,224 that showed up yesterday. Fans complained that concession stands ran out of some items or, in some cases, served undercooked hot dogs -- occasionally without buns. No part of the franchise appeared impervious to mayhem over the course of the first seven games.

So now, the players said, it's time for a deep breath.

"I laugh at people who hit the panic button after the first week," said right fielder Austin Kearns, who ended the Nationals' 0-for-the-series skid with runners in scoring position with an eighth-inning single. "It hasn't gone good. We know that. But if we hit the panic button after the first week, come August, I guess [outsiders] would expect to see guys hanging themselves in here. It's a long year."

It started with a long week. Because the club didn't pursue expensive or even mid-range pitchers in free agency, it knew it would enter the season with an inexperienced starting rotation. Yesterday, one of those inexperienced pitchers -- right-hander Shawn Hill, who entered the season with nine major league starts -- gave the Nationals every opportunity to win.

That is, except for the first inning. Hill hit one batter, hung a change-up that Orlando Hudson drilled for a double, and ended up allowing a run-scoring groundout. Thus, the Nationals trailed 2-0 before they got to hit.

"It's tough to play from behind every day," Hill said.

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