Nationals Fail to Overcome Balester's Bad Start
Thursday, August 20, 2009
If nothing else, the Washington Nationals were kind enough to submit several forcible warning signs that Wednesday night would be ugly and long well before it got too long. In general, it's never a good sign when a game begins at 7:06 p.m. and the bullpen is already buzzing by 7:18. It's never a good sign when the starter doesn't record an out until the 28th pitch. It's never a good sign when the pitching staff walks six of the first 14 batters it faces.
In Washington's 5-4 loss to Colorado at Nationals Park, the early tribulations -- mostly the fault of Collin Balester -- set the Nationals way behind and forced them on a long march that ultimately came up short. The Nationals, losing their second in a row on this homestand, couldn't afford the ruinous start. Especially when facing Rockies all-star starter Jason Marquis, who went six innings (nine hits, three runs) to pick up his 14th win, tying for the National League lead.
From the minute he took the mound, though, Marquis was protecting a lead. First a 2-0 lead, and later 4-1.
Though Marquis didn't dazzle, he walked only one, a telling contrast to Balester. The Washington right-hander faced 12 batters. At least several of his 51 pitches happened to wander toward the broad vicinity of home plate. During his 1 1/3 innings, he occasioned mound visits from his catcher, his pitching coach and his manager. The first time Jim Riggleman visited, he tried to calm Balester. The second time Riggleman visited, four pitches and four balls later, the interim manager pulled Balester from the game.
The 21st career start of Balester's career was also the shortest and the wildest. He walked five, including the first three batters of the game. He threw at least two high fastballs that missed the strike zone by more than three feet. One nearly exited the playing field altogether through the gates behind home plate. On top of that, he bounced a pickoff attempt at second base into center field and allowed a two-RBI double to Troy Tulowitzki in the first.
Good thing he got out of a bases-loaded no-out jam, or else it would have really been bad.
"Yeah, that's not the way I want to pitch. I don't [usually] pitch with control issues. I try to pound the zone," Balester said. "It's a little unusual, a little discouraging."
Fact is, Washington got lucky. When Riggleman inserted Saúl Rivera with 23 outs remaining in the game, the Nationals trailed only 3-1. Colorado had already stranded six base runners after two innings.
As Rivera (3 2/3 innings, one run) kept things from unraveling, the Nationals' offense tried to battle back. A Nyjer Morgan leadoff single in the first and a subsequent RBI triple by Ryan Zimmerman helped. So did two more runs in the fifth, when Morgan, Cristian Guzmán, Zimmerman and Adam Dunn strung together hits. Washington would also get a solo homer in the ninth against Colorado closer Huston Street, to provide the final margin of 5-4.
"We put together a nice little rally on them. We just couldn't quite finish it off," Riggleman said.
Nationals Notes: Jordan Zimmermann on underwent successful reconstructive elbow surgery Wednesday afternoon in Los Angeles. The surgery was performed by Nationals team physician Wiemi Douoguih and orthopedic specialist Lewis Yocum.
Zimmermann, 23, who is expected to miss between 12 and 18 months, will fly back to Washington on Thursday. He must wear a splint for the next week. Rizzo said that Zimmermann will remain with the team for the rest of the season while rehabbing. . . .
Austin Kearns (bruised right thumb) is still several weeks away from beginning a rehab assignment. . . . Catcher Jesús Flores, who has been out since May 9 with a stress fracture in his right shoulder, began a throwing routine on Wednesday.