By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 28, 2008
The common thread in three solid starts for Washington Nationals left-hander John Lannan: catcher Wil Nieves, who was behind the plate for all three.
"Wil back there has been great," Lannan said, unsolicited, after his seven scoreless innings sparked a 2-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs yesterday. "His positive attitude has just been awesome. We've just been on the same page."
Nieves was called up from Class AAA Columbus April 16, and since then has hit .348 with a game-ending homer Friday night against the Cubs. More important, he has established such a rapport with Lannan that Manager Manny Acta said, "I don't think I can break it up now."
"I just feel like I've been catching him for a long time," Nieves said.
Lannan's ERA in his three starts with Nieves is 0.45. Yesterday, General Manager Jim Bowden said he was impressed, after Lannan issued a one-out walk in the first and then threw a ball to the next hitter, that Nieves went out to talk to his pitcher.
"Boy, that put him right on track and he got out of the inning," Bowden said.
With starting catcher Paul Lo Duca beginning a rehabilitation assignment at Class A Potomac today, the questions about Nieves's future with the team become more pertinent by the day.
"I hate to send anybody down that's performing at that level, so that'll be a difficult decision when we get there," Bowden said. "Right now, he's been a very important part of our winning. I just look forward to him catching his next game."Kearns in a Rut
Right fielder Austin Kearns went 0 for 3 yesterday and is mired in a 1-for-22 slump that has his average at .187, the lowest it has been since the second game of the 2007 season. He has just four extra-base hits -- two homers and two doubles.
"I felt good today," Kearns said, and indeed he hit one ball exceptionally well to deep right-center field, where it was caught on the warning track. Kearns, though, knows the object isn't to hit the ball hard.
"You always want results," Kearns said. "But at least today, I felt a lot better up there. That's a step."