Nationals Notebook

Nationals Notebook: Prolonged Rainout With St. Louis Cardinals Pushes John Lannan's Start Back a Day

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 4, 2009

The Washington Nationals kept waiting for a window, a clear patch that would allow for baseball. The guesswork kept everybody dancing. Groundskeepers covered the infield with a tarp, then removed it, then again unfurled it. Washington team officials announced a 1:35 p.m. start time, then a 2 p.m. start time, then an undetermined start time.

The start time never came. After waiting for 1 hour 54 minutes, yesterday's game between the Nationals and Cardinals was rained out, with no makeup date immediately announced. For now, the Nationals will bump back every pitcher's next start; thus, John Lannan, who was supposed to pitch yesterday, will start tonight against Houston.

"Well, around 1:15 p.m. they told me that we were ready to go at 2," Lannan said. "So I rushed to get ready, and then I got ready and I was ready to go and they go, 'No, we're gonna wait another 40 minutes.' So then I was sitting around, and that was the tough part. But I was just preparing to start whenever."

In the coming days, a contingency plan that involves more than the pitching staff might be necessary. Rain is predicted to fall for much of the next two days. The Astros visit for a two-game series, their only visit to Washington this year. If the first game is rained out, the Nationals likely will be forced into a doubleheader tomorrow. Which is fine, except the team plans to fly out that night to Los Angeles because it starts a two-game series against the Dodgers on Wednesday night.

Either way, the Nationals must find a way to make up the game with St. Louis -- another team not scheduled to reappear in Washington this year. The teams have several common off dates, but none appears ideal because of the respective travel.

MacDougal Joins System

Mike MacDougal is a former all-star relief pitcher. These days he's a long way from regaining that form, but the Washington Nationals signed the right-hander yesterday simply as another modest option for a struggling bullpen. MacDougal, 32, will be assigned to Class AAA Syracuse.

A nine-year big league veteran with 262 games pitched, all but three in relief, MacDougal closed games for the Kansas City Royals in 2003 (his lone all-star season) and 2005. He has spent parts of the last three years -- counting the start of 2009 -- with the Chicago White Sox. But on April 21, with five appearances and a 12.46 ERA, MacDougal was designated for assignment; he later cleared waivers and became a free agent.

For his career, MacDougal has a 4.18 ERA and 50 career saves.

"It's a depth and inventory insurance-policy type of thing that we've been doing a lot of this year," acting general manager Mike Rizzo said. "Just having reinforcements if we need them."

Washington's bullpen this year has a 5.28 ERA, and is currently using two veterans who weren't on the roster at the start of March -- Kip Wells and Julián Tavárez -- to close games.

Clippard Shines in Class AAA Pen

In his brief major league exposure, Tyler Clippard always encountered a problem. The longer he lasted in games, the better opponents fared. Third time through the lineup, teams adjusted to his best pitch, a change-up. So this year, the Nationals asked Clippard, currently with Syracuse, to become a reliever.

"We figured if we shortened his spurts he may be more effective," Rizzo said. "And he's taken to it very well."

With the Chiefs, Clippard has appeared in seven games, pitching 13 1/3 innings. He has a 1.35 ERA. He has walked four and struck out 17.

Shell Finds a Home

Steven Shell, designated for assignment by the Nationals on April 19, has signed a minor league deal with the Seattle Mariners . . . Relief pitcher Joe Beimel, recovering from left hip flexor strain, missed the chance to continue his rehab assignment when yesterday's Class A Potomac game was rained out. Beimel will pitch today with Class AA Harrisburg and return from the disabled list on Wednesday . . . Ask those in the organization about those worth watching in the minors, and two names come up: First, Chris Marrero, a 2006 first-round pick who's off to a hot start (.314 average) with Potomac. Next, Craig Stammen, a Syracuse starter (3-1, 2.35 ERA) who's quietly become the top pitching option if somebody in the big league rotation falters. . . . During Saturday night's gala at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center -- an annual event to benefit the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation -- the infamous Adam Dunn "NATINALS" jersey went for $8,000 in a live auction.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company