Bacsik Delivers For Nats

Washington Nationals Austin Kearns hits a solo home run against the New York Mets during the sixth inning of their baseball game, Friday, July 27, 2007 at Shea Stadium in New York. (AP Photo/Ed Betz)
Washington Nationals Austin Kearns hits a solo home run against the New York Mets during the sixth inning of their baseball game, Friday, July 27, 2007 at Shea Stadium in New York. (AP Photo/Ed Betz) (Ed Betz - AP)

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By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 28, 2007

NEW YORK, July 27 -- Long before bullpen sessions or batting practice Friday afternoon, Manny Acta and Randy St. Claire sat down for a little game of "If this, then that." If the Washington Nationals' starter that night at Shea Stadium, Mike Bacsik, faltered early, what could they do? Where would the manager and the pitching coach turn? They stared at their pieces of paper, charts showing the names that make up baseball's most overworked bullpen.

"I tell you what," Acta said afterward. "It could've gotten ugly if Bacsik would've been out of the game early."

Bacsik, though, pulled out some lipstick and made a potentially hideous situation quite lovely, beating the New York Mets, 6-2, with seven efficient innings. He allowed eight hits and didn't strike out anybody, but walked just one and gave up two runs.

He was backed up, too, by an offense that produced four doubles in the second inning and received solo homers from Ryan Church and Austin Kearns. And when Luis Ayala pitched perfect eighth and ninth innings, Acta's disaster preparedness plan could be stowed away.

"He gave me even more than I was hoping for," Acta said. "He gave us seven innings, and everybody knows the condition of our bullpen after those games in Philadelphia. Just gave us a huge, huge lift."

The game was played in the context of those around it. The Nationals' bullpen was still reeling from a 14-inning game Wednesday against the Phillies, not to mention the fact that their starters combined to throw 11 1/3 innings over the three-game series in Philadelphia. Greeting the Nationals on Saturday is a day-night doubleheader, one which will be concluded when right-hander Joel Hanrahan -- who will be called up from Class AAA Columbus later in the day -- will make his major league debut.

So when Acta and St. Claire, his pitching coach, looked over their sheets, there were more players they wanted to avoid than they wanted to use.

Closer Chad Cordero could have pitched, but Friday would have been his third straight appearance, and because Acta desperately wants to avoid using relievers four straight days, Cordero would have been unavailable for either game of the doubleheader. Same for setup man Jon Rauch. Right-hander Saul Rivera might have chipped in with an inning, but he had thrown three frames on Wednesday.

Those guys and others have combined to throw more innings than any bullpen in baseball this season. So the conclusion on Friday afternoon: Cross your fingers, look to the sky -- and hope Bacsik came through.

"I'm a pitcher," Bacsik said. "I know how it would be if I'd thrown three out of four days, and I knew a doubleheader's coming up and [they have] a couple new guys starting for us. But it worked out great. I'm happy I was able to give the bullpen a rest tonight."

The offense gave Bacsik a bit of a rest, too, by pummeling Mets starter Jorge Sosa, who served as Exhibit A of why New York General Manager Omar Minaya described his priorities before the trade deadline with one word: "Pitching."

Sosa gave up that slew of doubles in the second, started by Dmitri Young and Church, finished by Brian Schneider and Nook Logan. With that, the Nationals had a 3-0 lead.


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