Nats' Problems Easy to Locate; Fastballs Aren't in Their Loss

For Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, it was a stretch to catch this foul popup by the Rockies' Todd Helton.
For Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, it was a stretch to catch this foul popup by the Rockies' Todd Helton. (By Jack Dempsey -- Associated Press)

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By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 27, 2007

DENVER, Aug. 26 -- Given the final score -- which read, boldly, Colorado Rockies 10, Washington Nationals 5 -- it sounds absurd to submit that, had one or two pitches been over the plate instead of off it, the outcome could have been wholly different.

There is no taking away the Rockies' flogging of the Nationals on Sunday, one that completed a demoralizing sweep. Left fielder Matt Holliday went 3 for 4 with a homer and three RBI, and the Rockies scored all of their runs with two outs.

All of this can be laid squarely on the shoulders of one Joel Hanrahan. For an assessment of his problem, turn to an expert for analysis.

"Couldn't throw a ball over the plate," pitching coach Randy St. Claire said. "Nothing. Couldn't throw anything over the plate."

There you have it, the finer points of the game laid out. The rookie right-hander had what, statistically and esthetically, could be deemed the worst performance by a Nationals starting pitcher this season. There is, of course, tough competition, given that Jason Simontacchi was pelted for 10 runs in three innings against Detroit in June, and Jerome Williams -- remember him? -- allowed nine earned runs against Florida back in April, though it took six innings.

Hanrahan's line looked like the scroll at the bottom of CNBC when there is upheaval in the stock market, numbers flying everywhere. He lasted 2 2/3 innings, allowed eight hits and nine earned runs, walked five, managed to strike out one batter, gave up Holliday's homer and threw a wild pitch. An outing such as that will take a decent ERA through his first five major league starts (3.42) and make it abysmal (5.90).

"I just didn't have anything working for me," Hanrahan said. "I couldn't establish an off-speed pitch for a strike. When that happens, they can start sitting on a fastball."

That would assume, though, that Hanrahan could throw his fastball for strikes. That simply wasn't the case. Take that tiny handful of pitches. In the second inning of what was then a 1-1 game, Hanrahan issued his first walk of the day, a one-out pass to Ryan Spilborghs. After he got catcher Chris Iannetta to fly out, all he needed to do was retire the opposing pitcher, Elmer Dessens, to maintain a tie.

Yet Hanrahan couldn't come close to retiring Dessens.

"He couldn't even throw strikes to the pitcher," Manager Manny Acta said.

His four-pitch walk put runners on first and second, and set up the rest of a frustrating inning. Hanrahan issued two more walks, which were sandwiched around an infield single from Troy Tulowitzki. The Rockies scored two to go up 3-1.

"I just tried to guide a strike in there instead of letting it go," Hanrahan said of facing Dessens. "When you try to guide the ball, it's not going to work out too well for you."


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