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Washington Nationals Lose Again to Chicago Cubs, 11-3

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By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 20, 2009

Start to finish, Julián Tavárez spent 128 days with the Washington Nationals, and though the relationship started out well, by the end he contributed dismal performances with such regularity that even the poorest team in baseball couldn't keep him around. On Sunday, Tavárez emerged from the bullpen in the fourth inning, faced five batters, gave up three hits, lucked into two line-outs, yielded a run, and lowered his July ERA to 14.73.

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As Tavárez walked off the field, inning over, the Nationals were already buried in a blowout -- what became an 11-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs. Tavárez came to the dugout steps at Nationals Park and was greeted by the afternoon's starter, Garrett Mock, who extended a hand in consolation. Tavárez, known as a rapid competitor and worker, raised both hands, as if to suggest that he deserved no such kindness. Already, he had a sense of what was coming. Just as Washington's season was getting long -- last week's managerial firing invited only an anticlimax, not a rally -- Tavárez was losing the right to be a part of it.

Minutes after this four-game series sweep ended, interim manager Jim Riggleman, among others, spoke to Tavárez. The team planned to designate him for assignment, recalling Logan Kensing from Class AAA Syracuse. In a sense, Tavárez understood: He's 36, after all. He has pitched for 11 organizations. Last season alone, he was designated twice for assignment. He has learned that pitchers whose arms stay healthy and recover fast always find another taker.

"Tomorrow I'm going to be running and throwing balls, waiting for somebody to give me a call," Tavárez said. "This year you will see me with somebody else."

In another sense, though, this season -- and especially the latest month -- perplexed Tavárez. Never in 17 seasons had he witnessed one filled with so many blunders, with such unrelenting misery. Though Tavárez has a reputation in baseball as a wild man -- his past is filled with suspensions, mound brawls and ridiculous quotes -- he is also a wild competitor. Some nights, after his worst outings on the road, he'd walk back to the team hotel by himself, contemplating his mistakes. He'd arrive the next day at the ballpark at noon, more than an hour before any teammate. In Washington, Tavárez lived in a single room at the Capital Skyline Hotel, just a few blocks from the ballpark. He kept no friends in the city, and did little else but wake up, work out, prepare to pitch, and pitch.

"I could go to the pool, I could sleep longer, I could go out to eat by myself, but I don't want to," Tavárez said. "It's not lonely. I just want to be in the majors. Go to the weight room, go to the hot tub. And an hour later [my teammates] start showing up. I enjoy my uniform every day. If it was me, I'd want to play 12 months in a row."

Entering Sunday's game, Tavárez still felt confounded by his own problems, and by those of his team. He was throwing in the low-90s. He detected no injuries. But it had been weeks since he resembled the pitcher who finished June with a 3.73 ERA.

"I don't have the right answer for you right now," Tavárez said, when asked to explain his struggles, "and I don't think I will have it tomorrow either."

Those at Nationals Park on Sunday witnessed a tidy summation of the problems. The same pitcher, Mock, who'd been lights-out with Class AAA Syracuse, came up to make his first big league start of the year and allowed more runs (seven) than he did in 35 previous innings with the Chiefs (two). Mock carried a 2-1 lead into the fourth, but that's where the devolution began. Everything started with a one-out error, Washington's 88th of the season. Jake Fox grounded to shortstop Alberto González, who barely lowered his glove for the ball. The average housecat could have scooted under the leather. With Fox aboard, Mock fell apart. His next 20 pitches led to a walk, two wild pitches, and four hits, including a homer from Alfonso Soriano and an RBI single from opposing pitcher Kevin Hart.

"It kept snowballing," said Mock, who finished with 3 1/3 innings and seven runs allowed (four earned).

Tavárez replaced Mock and summarily deepened the hole. He inherited two runners, and both eventually scored. So did Derrek Lee, who smacked the first of three singles against Tavárez. By inning's end, Washington trailed 8-2.

If anything, the first four games of Riggleman's tenure introduced an even lower grade of achievement and fortune. At least during the typical Manny Acta homestand, the Nationals could count on the occasional rainout to spare them from a loss. In this four-game series, the Nationals were outscored 26-11. They committed six errors. Their final loss of the series marked just the third time all year they lost by eight or more runs.


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