Bacsik's Rough Start Sets Tone in Nats' Loss

By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 7, 2007

If ever there was a chance for the Washington Nationals to revive themselves against a playoff-contending opponent, it was last night. After all, the National League Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers had lost five of their past seven games. They even had lost their starting center fielder to an ankle injury.

So forget for a moment that the Nationals also were slumping, having lost eight of their past 10 games. They had a chance.

And then the game started.

Starting pitcher Mike Bacsik gave up five runs in the first two innings, and the Nationals went on to lose, 6-2. Bacsik allowed six runs and eight hits in five innings of work, a performance Washington could not afford with the way its offense has operated of late.

Bacsik watched his eighth pitch of the ballgame sail off the bat of rookie Ryan Braun and over the wall in left-center field for a solo home run.

"With the stuff Mike has, he has to be near perfect with his location and command of his pitches," Manager Manny Acta said. "Obviously, he wasn't. He was up in the zone, and when his stuff is up there, it's going to get hit hard."

Kevin Mench, who followed Braun, smacked a three-run shot to left field. After half an inning, the Nationals trailed by four runs.

"For the most part, my fastball was up, my change-up was flat and my curveball was nonexistent; I'm disgusted with myself right now," Bacsik said. "I feel healthy, but I made stupid pitches in stupid situations. Even if I made the right pitch, I didn't execute it, and it ended up a home run."

It was the lefty's execution at key moments, rather than overall, that brought about his downfall against the Brewers. He recorded no walks and threw 60 of his 90 pitches for strikes. Bacsik struggled to find the plate only when he hit Prince Fielder with a pitch in the fifth following Braun's second home run of the game.

Acta stood by Bacsik after the game, stating that no one performance would define a pitcher's future with the team. "We're not going to be changing our minds after every start," he said. "We're not going to try to run him out of town unless something better comes along."

Earlier in the day, the Nationals welcomed their newest member, pitcher Ross Detwiler, to RFK Stadium. The sixth-overall pick in the 2007 draft tossed out the ceremonial first pitch, though the throw did not quite make it to the catcher's glove before bouncing in the dirt.

Braun could provide Detwiler with a pointer or two on making an impact in a hurry. Entering last night's game, Braun was hitting .340 with eight home runs and 29 RBI in 37 games since being called up to the majors May 25.

The Nationals could use a similar spark at the moment. Among position players in the team's starting lineup last night, only first baseman Dmitri Young and second baseman Ronnie Belliard are hitting better than .253. Center fielder Ryan Langerhans, who manned the leadoff spot in the batting order, is hitting .171 after going 0 for 4 with a walk.

"It's been a tough stretch; we're just in a funk," left fielder Ryan Church said. "We just ran into some good pitchers [lately], but this is the big leagues, and you've got to get it done, so we'll figure it out."

Brewers starter Dave Bush flustered the Nationals all night, keeping them off-balance with a hard overhand breaking ball. He recorded seven strikeouts in seven innings while allowing one run on seven hits. Belliard provided the only blemish on Bush's performance when he hit a solo home run in the seventh.

"I thought I should have gotten about four" hits, said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who went 1 for 5. "I guess you could say that's just the way it's going right now."

In some ways, it's the way things have been going recently for the Brewers as well. Center fielder Bill Hall, a key offensive contributor, severely sprained his right ankle while attempting to rob Pittsburgh's Ryan Doumit of a home run in the second inning on Thursday. Hall was batting .329 in his last 21 games.

With Hall out and the Brewers reeling, the Nationals had an opportunity to relieve a bit of their offensive stress. With the all-star break approaching, chances to churn out some positive momentum heading into the second half of the season are running out.

"It's a little late unless we get two shutouts and 20 hits in the next two games," Acta said. "It is what it is; we can't score runs right now."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company