By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 21, 2009
NEW YORK, Sept. 20 -- Neither science nor sabermetrics has yet devised a method for measuring energy, so any attempt to moderate a debate on the Washington Nationals' energy level Sunday afternoon might be as futile as the baseball itself.
It's hardly worth assembling the anecdotal evidence, either, because that would require some brave steward to revisit the details locked away within three hours of best-forgotten baseball. Just know this: Sunday, a 97-loss team became a 98-loss team. The Nationals were down early, soon down by more, and quickly down for good. Even their own manager, a charitable judge of quality, called the game "lackluster."
But after a 6-2 loss Sunday against the New York Mets at Citi Field, interim skipper Jim Riggleman reserved the harshest criticism for his own team. Though he could point to no particular misdeeds, after the game Riggleman described an "overall lack of energy in the dugout," noting the lack of chatter among players and the absence of an "aura about our club that said, 'We're going to win this ballgame.' "
In the minutes following the team's latest defeat -- its fifth in six games -- Riggleman gathered his players in the clubhouse (a standard procedure) and reminded them that future jobs were at stake.
"We just were flat, and that's not acceptable," Riggleman said in his postgame media session. "We got down a run, and it was almost as if, 'Well, let's see what we can do here to get through it.' You know, I just wasn't pleased with the overall intensity of the game. The thing is, the other guy (Mets starter John Maine) was throwing a pretty good ballgame; good pitching will make you look flat. But we can't allow that to happen. We've got a lot of guys on this ballclub that are fighting to make an impression for the future, and so I just reminded them that these last couple weeks count. You can't play with a lack of energy. If you do, it's going to show up in somebody's mind who's going to be making a decision about your future."
Whether or not the Nationals looked flat, they assuredly looked lousy. For the third time in four games, the lineup failed to manage a single hit within the first four innings. Their two-run burst of competence in the ninth came after they were already down 6-0. Starter Garrett Mock, who tends to struggle in the early innings, allowed seven hits within his first 46 pitches, and by the time Daniel Murphy bashed a two-run double toward the 415-foot sign in right-center in the third, the Mets had a 4-0 lead.
The good news was, Mock recovered, finished with four scoreless frames, and lasted seven innings and 115 pitches.
The bad news was, Mock didn't go eight innings and 130 pitches, sparring 38,347 from another toilsome performance from Washington's bullpen (43 pitches, three walks and two runs in one inning).
As the team packed for its day off and subsequent nine-game homestand, several veterans were asked about their manager's criticism. Ryan Zimmerman said that the team could have used more energy on Sunday, but only in the sense that "you can always have more energy on every day."
First baseman Adam Dunn, asked if he thought Washington's energy level was lacking, began by saying: "That's tough. I was in the game; I'm not going to sit here and say I was flat because I don't think I was and I can only speak for myself. As far as the team -- I don't think we came out . . . "
He paused, and began in another direction.
"I'm gonna say, no, I don't think we were flat. I don't. I just think that we ran into some guys that pitched pretty good, we weren't swinging the bats really well, and I think that's the problem."
Later, Dunn added: "It's easy, man, [to keep your energy level up]. Good weather. What else are you going to do? Energy -- that has nothing to do with it. We've playing 100-and-X amount of games. Why would we decide on Sunday whatever-the-day-is to not play hard? That's [B.S.]. That's one thing we do. Winning or losing, we do play hard."