Nationals Notebook

Washington Nationals Starting Rotation Struggles

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 15, 2009

On Sunday, hours before Scott Olsen was set to make his second start of the season, Manager Manny Acta acknowledged a wish. He wanted to see Olsen throw seven scoreless innings. Then, on Monday, hours before Daniel Cabrera was set to make his second start of the season, Acta acknowledged another wish. He wanted to see Cabrera throw seven scoreless innings.

Acta witnessed neither, not even close -- which is no surprise, because Olsen has gone 28 starts since his last outing of seven or more innings without a run. Cabrera has gone 44 starts. And the Nationals, winless in seven games, can link much of their current predicament to their starting pitchers, who together have a 9.29 ERA. Opponents are batting .351 against them. No starter yet has exited a game with the lead.

When Washington finalized its rotation at the end of spring training, the team's management understood that such a young group -- nobody is older than 27 -- was certain to take its lumps.

"It happens," pitching coach Randy St. Claire said. "But it's just frustrating that it's the first seven games for us."

St. Claire planned to spend yesterday's off day scanning video for ways to help -- or for signs of progress. Already, he has noticed some signs. John Lannan, Olsen, and Cabrera have each made two starts. All three improved between the first and second, with Olsen in particular adding velocity to his fastball, occasionally topping 90 mph. Still, Olsen (the No. 2 starter) and Cabrera (the No. 3 starter) form a dubious middle. Each, numerous baseball scouts said this week, is qualified to fill out the back of a rotation.

President Stan Kasten said: "I think our offense is going to be as good as what we thought it was going to be. Our bullpen is going to be as good if not better than we thought when we started spring training. Our defense is going to be okay, I think. We knew we were going with young starting pitching, and young starting pitching has its ups and downs."

Waiting on Alvarez

Carlos Alvarez, the minor league prospect formerly known as Esmailyn González, is still stuck in the Dominican Republic -- and the Nationals are still waiting to get word on his availability for the minor league season. "There are things going on behind the scenes," Kasten said. "There is still a chance he could play this year. I don't have any more specific answers for you today."

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