Nats Fall To Their 7th Loss In a Row

The Nationals' Jason Simontacchi hadn't thrown in the majors since 2004.
The Nationals' Jason Simontacchi hadn't thrown in the majors since 2004. (By Morry Gash -- Associated Press)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 9, 2007

MILWAUKEE, May 8 -- Hours before the Washington Nationals dropped their seventh straight game, an all-too-familiar 6-4 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, they lost one player, Chad Cordero, who departed to deal with the impending death of a family member; another, Josh Wilson, to poor performance and a demotion to the minors; and still another, Ryan Wagner, to a creaky shoulder that he said he probably should have alerted club officials to sooner.

In their stead, the Nationals activated a pitcher, Jason Simontacchi, to start against the Brewers, and for a man who hadn't started a major league game in nearly four years, he threw well Tuesday night. His one mistake turned into a three-run homer by Prince Fielder in the sixth, his last inning.

They added another pitcher, Winston Abreu, whose only previous stint in the majors resulted in a 10.13 ERA, and he retired the first two men he faced, then gave up a homer to J.J. Hardy. And they brought up a 33-year-old third baseman, Tony Batista, who played in Japan two seasons ago, then was cut by Minnesota in 2006, and he swung at the first pitch he saw, flying out as a pinch hitter in the ninth.

"Shake things up, maybe," Manager Manny Acta said.

There is very little shake to the Nationals these days. They plodded along on their nine-game road trip -- one that will mercifully end Wednesday -- with their roster in tumult, their fortunes growing grimmer by the day. This was supposed to be a difficult season for Washington, which already has the worst record in the majors and is on pace to go 44-118. But the upheaval has exacerbated the lack of performance. A win is badly needed. Soon.

"It's frustrating," said second baseman Felipe Lopez, who led off the game with a homer. "I hate losing. I think everybody does. It's not fun, even if you're doing good. When you're a team player, who cares about [being an] all-star and all that? If you're losing, it doesn't even matter."

The loss of Cordero, who has dealt with his share of on-field problems in blowing four of his first eight save opportunities, is the most significant development. He was placed on the bereavement list so he could spend time with his paternal grandmother, who is gravely ill with brain cancer. Cordero -- who must miss a minimum of three games but no more than seven -- traveled to his home town of Chino, Calif., Tuesday afternoon. Josie Cordero was read her last rites on Monday and brought home from the hospital, her grandson said.

"It's been tough," Cordero said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "I try to do my best. I try not to let it affect me during the game. But before the game, and when I got back home, it's tough. You always have it on your mind. You're always waiting for that phone call. Yesterday, I sat in the clubhouse the first four innings waiting for that call. Luckily, it didn't come."

After he blew a 3-2 lead in the ninth inning against the Chicago Cubs on Sunday, Cordero spoke for the first time about his grandmother's problems. By Monday, the situation had so consumed Cordero that he went to Acta and discussed the situation. Acta agreed not to use Cordero for two days, though he didn't want the Brewers to know his closer would be unavailable.

"He told me how his mind wasn't in baseball right now, and he needed a couple of days off," Acta said. Cordero said he hoped to return Monday. In the meantime, Acta said setup man Jon Rauch -- who saved two games for the Nationals in 2006 when Cordero needed rest -- will serve as the closer.

Thus, the Nationals' bullpen is suddenly thinner. Wagner, who lost Sunday's game in the 10th after Cordero blew the save in the ninth, said he had been battling soreness in his right shoulder for perhaps 10 days to two weeks. But he didn't say anything to team officials until Sunday night. Wagner (0-2, 5.74 ERA) had inflammation in his rotator cuff diagnosed. He will have an MRI exam on Thursday in Washington.

Wagner admitted he should have mentioned the discomfort to team officials earlier.

"I'm trying to be too much of a hero," he said. "That's just kind of who I am. I like to think I'm a tough guy, and sometimes that will get the better of you."

Thus, the Nationals selected the contract of Abreu from Class AAA Columbus, where he had given up just one run in 18 innings. But the homer Hardy hit off Abreu in the eighth provided insurance, giving the Brewers a 5-3 lead that they added to with Johnny Estrada's solo shot off Micah Bowie.

Long before that, Simontacchi, admittedly excited, allowed just one run in the first five innings, then allowed the first two men to reach in the sixth. He got Fielder to swing through a pair of change-ups, but with the count 1-2, he tried to throw a fastball inside, out of the strike zone. The ball tailed back over the plate, and Fielder crushed it for his 10th homer, three fewer than the Nationals have as a team.

With the way Washington's offense is going, that was almost sure to be enough.

"The wins are going to come," Simontacchi said. "I haven't been here, so I can't expect the morale to be high. But at the same time, just showing up today, they're relaxed, they're ready to play."

They just haven't won. Lopez, clearly frustrated even after he homered and doubled, was asked if other players felt as he does, that winning is more important than individual success.

"I hope so," he said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company