Another Pitcher Hurt, And Nats Feel the Pain

Nationals starter Jason Bergmann is tagged out at the plate by the Phillies' Carlos Ruiz. Bergmann later left the game with left hamstring tightness.
Nationals starter Jason Bergmann is tagged out at the plate by the Phillies' Carlos Ruiz. Bergmann later left the game with left hamstring tightness. (By Rusty Kennedy -- Associated Press)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 25, 2007

PHILADELPHIA, July 24 -- Pitchers aren't used to sprinting across the skin of the infield, planting their foot on a base and sucking it up for 90 more feet. "Everybody here is an athlete," Washington Nationals Manager Manny Acta said Tuesday night. Yet when one of those athletes, right-hander Jason Bergmann, landed on third and headed for home, he felt a twinge in his left leg.

And from there, the Nationals' seven-game road trip got off to a bit of a calamitous start. They played a fine game, a 4-3 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies that wasn't decided until center fielder Aaron Rowand hit a tiebreaking solo homer off reliever Luis Ayala in the eighth. But they may have lost yet another starting pitcher, and in a world in which they already need to call up a spot starter for a doubleheader Saturday, the strain is mounting.

"It's sore," Bergmann said. "We'll see how it goes."

That was the official word after the game. Bergmann's injury is simply tightness in his left hamstring, and he will receive treatment and be re-evaluated Wednesday before any determination is made about whether he can make his next start, scheduled for Sunday in New York against the Mets. That game is preceded by Saturday's day-night doubleheader. One of those games is supposed to be started by lefty Billy Traber -- who threw three innings in relief of Bergmann on Tuesday. Acta said Traber would make that start. The other is to be started by someone currently in the minors.

So, to review, a list of Nationals' starting pitchers who have appeared and been injured this year -- John Patterson, Shawn Hill, Jerome Williams, Micah Bowie, Jason Simontacchi and Bergmann, who has already missed six weeks with elbow problems. Thus, the starter who's called up for Saturday will be the 12th the Nationals will use this year. Maybe they really did need those 37 pitchers they invited to spring training.

"It's not going to help me, complaining and feeling sorry for myself," Acta said. "Bring somebody else up if he's not ready, and we'll battle."

Which is basically what the Nationals did Tuesday. Coming off a successful 5-2 homestand, they took a 3-2 lead on Brian Schneider's bases-clearing double in the fourth. Had it not been for two mistakes thereafter, they might have won it. The first was a wild pitch from reliever Chris Booker that allowed Rowand to advance to third in the sixth, after which he scored on a sacrifice fly from Pat Burrell, tying the score. The second came from Ayala, a fastball that was supposed to be away from Rowand but instead darted back over the plate, "kind of right in that happy zone," Schneider said.

A pitch earlier, with the count 1-2, Ayala had thrown another fastball with Schneider set up outside. The ball moved back over the plate, and Acta and Schneider thought it might have been called strike three. But umpire Bob Davidson signaled ball, keeping Rowand alive. Rowand, who went 3 for 4 with a pair of doubles and three runs scored, didn't miss Ayala's next mistake, driving it to left for the game-winner.

"He's hitting everybody," Acta said of Rowand, who's hitting .330.

But the bigger blow to the Nationals might have been the one to Bergmann's left leg. With his team trailing 1-0 in the third, Bergmann tried to bunt Schneider to second. But Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick easily threw to second for a forceout, and Bergmann had to bust it to stay out of the double play. He then advanced to second on a single from Felipe Lopez.

From there, it got adventurous. Ronnie Belliard singled to center, where -- guess who -- Rowand awaited the ball. With two outs and No. 3 hitter Ryan Zimmerman on deck, third base coach Tim Tolman watched Bergmann coming toward third.

"Bergy's one of the pitchers that we have that takes pride in his base-running," Tolman said. "Gets a good primary, good secondary lead. You know that Rowand's got a great arm. It's just the wrong place, wrong time to send him."

Yet that's what Tolman did. Somewhere after he rounded third, Bergmann felt a twinge. Rowand threw home, and Bergmann was dead. He got up, went to the dugout, mentioned to the athletic training staff that he might have injured himself, and then reported to the mound. When he threw a lousy 1-0 curveball to leadoff man Jimmy Rollins, Schneider went to the mound to give him a rest.

"It looked like he was a little out of breath," Schneider said.

It was more than that. When Schneider reported back behind the plate, Bergmann threw a change-up to Rollins. He drilled it to right for his 20th homer. Two batters later, Bergmann walked Chase Utley.

"I could've been really stupid," Bergmann said, "and really tried to tough it out. . . . I said at that point, 'It's time to cut our losses and get out of here.' " For how long, the Nationals don't yet know.

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