By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 18, 2007
TORONTO, June 17 -- Brian Schneider was ready to shower at the end of a nine-game trip Sunday afternoon, but he considered the list in his head -- starting pitchers for the Washington Nationals who are flung about the country pitching in the minors, hoping to overcome a cornucopia of ailments in order to get back to the majors and help their team.
"I don't want to start naming them," said Schneider, their catcher. "We'll be here a while."
One of the fill-in pitchers, however, is making a case for more permanent work. Before this year, Micah Bowie hadn't started a major league game since 1999, when he was a 24-year-old rookie. Sunday, he continued fashioning himself into a completely new model, turning in six strong innings in a 4-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays that finished off a nine-game trip in fine fashion.
The win, which featured three perfect innings from relievers Jesus Colome, Jon Rauch and Chad Cordero as well as a homer from third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, prevented a sweep by the Blue Jays and gave Washington a 6-3 mark on an interleague trek that also took the team to Minnesota and Baltimore. All of that happened while the injured legion of pitchers -- from struggling John Patterson to dominant Jason Bergmann -- began their stints in the minor leagues to build arm strength and return by the end of the month.
When and if those players come back, they will find one pitcher who could be tough to bump from the rotation -- Bowie, who had 179 professional relief appearances in between his major league starts.
"He's made a very strong case for himself the way he has pitched," Manager Manny Acta said.
Bowie's numbers in his six starts are these: 4-0 with a 3.81 ERA, and the Nationals have won all six. These are not dominant outings, but as he has built up his arm strength so he can extend himself into the sixth inning -- as he did Sunday, allowing three hits and two runs -- he has shown that he has the mental and physical capacity to handle his new assignment.
"I think it goes back to that was what he was used to doing in the past," Acta said.
There might be something to that. Schneider, afterward, was asked why Bowie might be able to handle the transition while others fail. "Has he started before?" Schneider said.
Indeed, in another lifetime, Bowie had 147 minor league starts, 11 in the majors. But his last full season as a starter was 2000, when he was in the Chicago Cubs' chain. Since then, he returned to the majors with Oakland in 2002 and 2003; blew out his elbow; "got a new elbow," as he said, noting the scar from ligament replacement surgery; and ended up with the Nationals in the minors in 2005.
"I thought my career was over a long time ago," he said.
Now, it is rejuvenated. He allowed three base runners and a run in the first, looking a bit shaky. The Nationals, though, came back with two in the second, on run-scoring hits from Austin Kearns and Tony Batista off Toronto's Josh Towers, putting the Nationals up 2-1.
"I have a lot of respect for the guys on this team," Bowie said. "They play their butts off. . . . Every time you give up a run, they come back and score again."
So when Bowie allowed a towering solo homer to Toronto designated hitter Frank Thomas -- the 496th of Thomas's career, including the 244th as a DH, setting a new record -- the Nationals scored in the next frame. Zimmerman drilled a first-pitch fastball from Towers out to left, and the Nationals were back up 3-2.
Thomas's homer, it turned out, would be the last hit the Blue Jays would get. After a pair of rough outings from starters Mike Bacsik and Levale Speigner in the first two games here, the Nationals' bullpen had to munch down some innings. But because most of that work was done by Winston Abreu, Billy Traber, Saul Rivera and Ray King, the key cogs were ready when Washington had a lead to protect.
When the Nationals arrived in Canada, both Rauch and Cordero had pitched three consecutive days. By Sunday afternoon, they were rested.
"Those guys, they've been so good for us," Acta said. "Today was the way we kind of drew it [up]. The seventh, Colome, Rauch and Cordero -- and they were lights out."
The fact that the Nationals can continue playing well even with the absence of so many starters has become something of a discussion in the clubhouse. The key date was May 11. Patterson was already on the disabled list. Shawn Hill pitched five innings of no-hit ball against Florida that night, but left with pain in his elbow and was on the DL three days later. A week from that point, Bergmann went on the DL as well. Yet since that night, the Nationals are 21-14.
"It's funny, we were just talking about that," first baseman Dmitri Young said. "These guys have done more than we could have asked."
Sunday, Bowie did it again, creating some momentum that would have been lost with a sweep.
"Now," Schneider said, "let's take it to RFK."