Church Is Sat Down, Nats Are Set Down

ronnie belliard - washington nationals
Ronnie Belliard and the Nats are out-slugged by Dan Uggla (2 home runs, 6 RBIs) and the Marlins on Sunday. (Alan Diaz - AP)

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By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 23, 2007

MIAMI, April 22 -- Messages can be sent, even in out-of-the-way ballparks such as Dolphin Stadium, even when the eyes of the sporting public are placed in almost every other direction than on a matchup between the Washington Nationals and the Florida Marlins. Ryan Church learned just that, and on a long afternoon in which his team was beaten brutally, he got to consider it from the comfort of the wooden bench in the visiting dugout.

To those in the stands, Miguel Cabrera delivered the loudest message, an upper-deck homer off helpless Washington starter Jerome Williams that will be the lasting image from the 12-6 whipping Florida put on Washington.

There were others, too, and Williams's fourth start of the year turned into something of a public flogging. He allowed another upper-deck shot to Dan Uggla, who hit two homers and drove in six runs. He walked four batters. He gave up 10 runs in his six innings. His record dropped to 0-4, his ERA rose to 7.77.

"I don't want to even remember what happened these last four starts," Williams said. "I just want to flush that down the toilet and try to move forward."

But Williams might not have been the most embarrassed National on Sunday. That honor was reserved for Church, the center fielder.

Perhaps no National is off to as solid a start as Church, who has been forced to play center rather than left after an Opening Day injury to Nook Logan. But when Church led off the second inning against Florida right-hander Wes Obermueller -- just called up from Class AAA -- by grounding a ball to the right side, he headed down to first. The ball was fielded by Marlins first baseman Aaron Boone, who flipped to Obermueller to easily retire Church.

In the dugout, Nationals Manager Manny Acta was watching. Closely.

"He didn't even go past the bag," Acta said.

So it was Acta's turn to deliver a message. By the time Church got back to the dugout, Acta was telling outfielder Chris Snelling -- who had been given the day off -- to get ready. In the bottom of the second, Snelling took over in left, Robert Fick moved from left to right, Austin Kearns moved from right to center, and Church remained on the bench.

"I'm a very patient man when it comes down to things that you can't control," Acta said. "If you can't throw strikes or [commit] physical or mental errors, those sometimes you can't control. But when it comes down to effort or playing hard, I don't have patience for that. . . .

"When I see [Ryan] Zimmerman and I see Kearns and I see [Brian] Schneider and all those guys run the bases the way they do regardless of the score, I just can't tolerate stuff like that."

Church, who entered Sunday tied for the National League lead with eight doubles and was called a "savior" by Acta last week for the way he played center field, didn't dispute the move.


CONTINUED     1        >

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