Nationals' Loss to Diamondbacks Makes for a Long Day

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By Chico Harlan
The Washington Post
Monday, May 11, 2009

PHOENIX, May 10 -- It didn't move fast. It had plenty of power. Those who relished Sunday's baseball game -- 3 hours 52 minutes, 18 runs, 5 homers -- are probably the sort who get a kick out of watching Caterpillar backhoe loaders snort down the right-hand lane of the freeway.

Perhaps the Washington Nationals, with a robust lineup and a frail pitching staff, are built for these games. At worst, they're accountable for causing them. Just as easily, they give up leads and reclaim them -- only to give them up again. Now 30 games into the season, the Nationals (10-19, with one game suspended), have earned a trademark style. Fortunately for fans watching, they charge neither by the hit nor the hour.

Sunday's 10-8 loss against Arizona at Chase Field typified Washington's best and worst, offering both the muscular and the painstaking. The midsection of Washington's lineup -- Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham -- capped an incendiary weekend by combining for eight hits, six RBI and four homers. Dunn's two home runs gave him four for the three-game series, 11 for the season and a share of the National League lead. Willingham, with two home runs, flashed the surest sign yet that he's finding a comfort zone despite spot playing time. Zimmerman's 3-for-5 game -- his latest instructional course on how to hit (with power) to the opposite field -- extended his hitting streak to 28. He is halfway to DiMaggio, and about two weeks shy of Cobb-Rose territory.

While that trio refused to make outs, Washington's lesser components refused to let this game end. And therein lies that reason why the Nationals have, at once, among the best offenses and the poorest records. When scoring six or more runs this season, the Nationals are 5-5-1. On Sunday, you could direct blame toward almost anybody who stepped onto the mound. Starter Scott Olsen needed to go "at least six innings" to aid a fatigued bullpen, Manager Manny Acta said; instead, he sputtered after four. Reliever Logan Kensing, then, needed to go at least two innings; he couldn't complete even one.

Eight Diamondbacks batted in the fifth. Eight more batted in the sixth. Washington didn't record a 1-2-3 inning until the seventh. Arizona's 17 hits were a season high, topping the previous total by five.

"In order for us to become a better club and have any type of consistency, we just can't be scoring eight runs and not win ballgames," Acta said. "The fact is, you're going to lose some ballgames where you score over six runs here and there, but if you have any type of decent ballgame, any type of six runs you should be able to win. And it's not happening enough here."

Olsen, during his labored 4 1/3 innings, succeeded only in grinding time to a standstill. Among the 25 batters he faced, 13 reached base. He walked three. Arizona, the weakest-hitting team in baseball, tagged him for 10 hits, including three doubles and an Eric Byrnes two-run homer. Against Olsen, batters reached every inning. He threw 109 pitches. He gave up leads of 3-2 and 4-3. The final batter he faced, Ryan Roberts, pounded a low grounder that pelted Olsen just above the left ankle. Olsen was okay; the bruise was merely a secondary reason why Acta, at that moment, yanked his pitcher from the ballgame.

"The outing was awful," Olsen said. "Nothing positive. Lots of runs. Lots of hits. Not very good."

He paused, then allowed his voice to lift.

"Ankle is okay."

Those in the Nationals' clubhouse are convinced, despite the record, that they'll be okay, too. While the pitching staff tries to achieve some working definition of effectiveness, the lineup already has proven capable. Dunn and Zimmerman, especially, deserve credit. Though his defense detracts from his value, Dunn does enough with the bat -- almost daily -- to keep Washington in games. His third-inning homer, a 438-foot shot off Max Scherzer tied the game at 1. His next homer, with Zimmerman aboard in the fifth, gave the Nationals a 4-3 lead. Last year, Washington didn't have a player (Ronnie Belliard) reach the 10-homer mark until Aug. 2.


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© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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