Pitchers Are Seen as First Line of Defense

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 23, 2007

CINCINNATI, May 22 -- When right fielder Austin Kearns and center fielder Nook Logan pursued a fly ball in the eighth inning of what became an 8-7 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Monday, they nearly collided -- in straightaway center field. The bizarre locale was a result of the Washington Nationals' increasing reliance on defensive positioning for the outfielders, a concept first-year bench coach Pat Corrales brought from the Atlanta Braves.

The outfielders, though, aren't the most important part of the strategy.

"Defense depends on the pitching," Corrales said. "First of all, you can't defense mistakes. A mistake can be hit to right, left or up the middle. If the pitchers know what they're doing, if they throw the ball where they're supposed to, it's easy to defense."

In Atlanta, then-pitching coach Leo Mazzone liked his pitchers to throw down and away, so the vast majority of outfield shifts were to the opposite field. Kearns, for one, said he never has played in an outfield that moved as much.

"I like it," he said. "I know with Pat being in Atlanta, I know when we played Atlanta, we used to always talk about how well positioned they were. It just seemed like they always were in the right spot."

Corrales said the Nationals' pitching staff is learning to pitch to the defense.

"We started off where they didn't understand what we were doing," Corrales said. "But they have a better idea now."

Speigner Starts Slow

Though right-hander Levale Speigner has an 11.57 ERA in his two starting appearances, Manager Manny Acta said he can't afford to replace Speigner with someone else because Washington has four of its original starters on the disabled list. Speigner said he is learning to use all three of his pitches as a starter rather than just relying on the two that are working best, which he did as a reliever.

"It's easy when you come out of the 'pen," Acta said, "and you just see three guys and then those same guys you probably won't see them again until a couple of days."

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