Loss Is a Downer for Chico

Nook Logan races toward first base as Mets catcher Mike DiFelice chases down the ball following a bunt. Logan was out on the play.
Nook Logan races toward first base as Mets catcher Mike DiFelice chases down the ball following a bunt. Logan was out on the play. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 18, 2007

Matt Chico stood tall at his locker, humbled but not defeated by the news he had just received. The left-handed starter, who hours earlier took the mound for the 25th time this season and was the only member of the Opening Day rotation not to miss a turn because of injury, had been optioned to Class AAA Columbus.

"To be honest, I'm not all that shocked," Chico said. "I have not been pitching well lately."

In his last three starts, including last night's 6-2 loss to the New York Mets, Chico gave up 16 walks in 13 2/3 innings of work. Location, he said, would be his primary focus in the minors.

Chico struggled through 4 1/3 innings last night, largely because he could not locate his pitches. He allowed four runs on five hits and five walks, not to mention two home runs. "It might be better for me to go down and get my head on straight," Chico said.

The move came as a surprise to many in the Nationals' locker room, including the man who had caught Chico's latest outing. Catcher Brian Schneider answered question after question about what his pitcher needed to work on before being informed that Chico no longer was on the active roster. "I had no idea," he said. "You guys kept asking me, and I was thinking, 'Guys, he's going to be fine.' "

Before Schneider learned of Chico's demotion, he spoke of the way the pitcher would get down 2-0 or 3-0 in a count before finally starting to throw strikes. "He didn't just fall apart," Schneider said. "He battled."

Manager Manny Acta said he also believed Chico eventually would be fine, but he sang the same chorus as Chico and Schneider. "He's got to throw strikes," Acta said before stating that Chico would return in September when the roster expands.

The move was necessary because the Nationals acquired outfielder Wily Mo Peña earlier in the day from the Boston Red Sox. Peña is expected to arrive sometime today and a roster spot needed to be cleared.

A large part of the reason Peña was brought in was to provide some pop to the Nationals' lineup, one that turned 10 hits into just two runs last night. Ryan Zimmerman went 3 for 4. Dmitri Young went 2 for 4. Austin Kearns went 2 for 3 with a walk. But the team struggled to show any tangible gain for all its effort.

Mets starter Tom Glavine certainly was not helping matters. The southpaw won the 301st game of his career last night by allowing eight hits, one walk and one run over seven innings. It was Glavine's ability to dance around hits and work out of trouble that kept the Mets in the lead.

With one out in the sixth and his team holding a three-run lead, Glavine allowed consecutive singles to Kearns and Ryan Church. Undaunted, he induced Schneider into a weak comebacker, which he deposited to first. Glavine then got Nook Logan to line out to Damion Easley, the first baseman, to end the threat.

As Chico sat on the bench, he thought back to when he was a kid staring at the television screen as TBS broadcast yet another outing of his favorite Braves pitcher.

Just like Chico, Glavine struggled in his first full season in the big leagues. In 1988 with the Atlanta Braves, the left-hander went 7-17 with a 4.56 ERA for a ballclub that finished in the cellar of its division with a 54-106 record.

These days, Glavine is headed toward the Hall of Fame, and while Chico never would suggest their careers are on the same path, he does believe they share similar pitching styles. Glavine is not a power pitcher, and neither is Chico. In fact, the one significant difference between the two pitchers is exactly what Chico intends to work on at Class AAA Columbus these next few weeks.

"He just got that presence about him," Chico said of Glavine. "He can make any pitch in any count at any time."

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