Nationals Swept, Changes Loom

Nats pitcher Saul Rivera walks off the mound after facing just three batters in the Tigers' five-run sixth.
Nats pitcher Saul Rivera walks off the mound after facing just three batters in the Tigers' five-run sixth. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)

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By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 21, 2007

Even before he watched reliever Saul Rivera enter a tie game in the sixth inning and fail to retire a batter, even before he saw Jesus Colome come on and allow the runs that resulted in an 8-4 victory for the Detroit Tigers, Jim Bowden, the general manager of the Washington Nationals, had a strong message for his team. Simply put: Produce, or move on.

"I think all of us have a level of frustration in the lack of productivity in certain areas on the club," Bowden said before last night's loss. "And the reality is we either step up and produce, or there has to be change or other people will get those opportunities."

The sting of Tuesday's 15-1 loss to the Tigers was palpable. Last night wasn't much better. Detroit broke open a 3-3 tie with five runs in the sixth, drawing a pair of walks off Rivera and then pecking away at Colome to put the game away.

That completed a three-game sweep at the hands of the defending American League champions, a team that came here for the first time since 1971, feasted, and departed looking very much like a club the Nationals would like to be in a couple of years. The Tigers scored 32 runs, reached double digits in hits each night, battled in every at-bat.

"A championship-caliber team," Nationals right fielder Austin Kearns said.

"Best team we've seen all year," catcher Brian Schneider added, and it might not be close.

Bowden intends to build a team very much like that, and it's instructive that the Tigers lost 119 games in 2003. But in order to make progress in this rebuilding summer, he has an objective: Collect as many players who might contribute to a winner in a couple of years, and discard the rest. The Tigers did it. Could the Nationals?

"Those guys were at the bottom of the barrel not too long ago," Kearns said. "It's definitely something that gives you an indication that it can be done and what can happen in the future."

Bowden's words yesterday don't portend a change in philosophy. Rather, he admitted that the blowout Tuesday was frustrating -- "Didn't like last night's game very much," he said. Even a rebuilding year has its breaking points.

"Patience goes only so far," Bowden said. "Decisions have to be made and finalized so when we build our next team for next year, we know exactly who on this team can be a part of it and who's not going to be a part of it."

Among those who could be under fire is Nook Logan, the swift center fielder who is hitting .202 and playing less-than-stellar defense. The arrival of minor leaguer Brandon Watson -- who will play center for now -- doesn't point to a promising future for Logan.

"I can't think of it that way," Logan said. "When I get in there, I've just got to play. I still got to work to be ready."

Bowden alluded to a slew of minor leaguers who could arrive this year, headlined by pitchers John Lannan and Collin Balester.

"Those that are here, the suggestion is: If you're going to produce at this level, let's produce at this level," Bowden said. "And if you don't, there's going to be changes."

The Nationals surely needed changes against the Tigers. Lefty Mike Bacsik basically pitched to a draw with unbeaten Detroit right-hander Jeremy Bonderman. Each allowed three runs in five innings. Acta then went to his pregame plan, turning to the bullpen.

"Everything happened the way we wanted it," Acta said, because the key relievers were rested.

But because Rivera was uncharacteristically wild with his cut fastball, it didn't work. He walked the first man he faced, allowed a single, then walked catcher Mike Rabelo on four pitches. That was enough for Acta, who replaced Rivera with Colome.

The results, though, were hardly better. Brandon Inge broke the tie with a single to right. Then came perhaps the key at-bat of the game. Tigers second baseman Omar Infante took two balls, then fouled off a pair of pitches to even the count 2-2. That began a 12-pitch at-bat in which Infante fouled off six two-strike pitches before finally fisting Colome's 98-mph fastball to right for a single that made it 5-3.

"He take a great at-bat today," Colome said.

After pinch hitter Gary Sheffield fouled out to third, Curtis Granderson bounced a ball over first to drive in two. The Tigers led 7-3, and the game was all but over.

The Nationals managed to get the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the eighth, when Ronnie Belliard pinch-hit for Watson with two outs and the bases loaded, trailing 8-4. But Belliard flew out to left. The sweep, mercifully, ended. The evaluation continues.

"We're getting into an area where we're almost into July," Bowden said. "We want to use this year to find answers. Some are going to be positive answers, and some are going to be negative answers. We're going to learn about both."

More in the Nationals Section

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Baseball Insider

Baseball Insider

Dave Sheinin reports the latest MLB news and examines the game's nuances.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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