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The Washington Nationals

Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 20, 2005 2:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Barry Svrluga talks baseball in the nation's capital -- every Wednesday.

The transcript follows .

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Barry Svrluga: Greetings, Nationals fans. A much-needed win in the summer heat last night, and John Patterson showed exactly how dominant he can be in eight shutout innings. Yes, he's only 4-2. But did you realize his ERA is down to 2.69? There are four National League Starters with better ERAs. Their names? Roger Clemens, Chris Carpenter, Roy Oswalt and Pedro Martinez.

With Livan Hernandez on the mound tonight against Colorado, it kind of seems like another must win -- especially given that two of those pitchers, Oswalt and Clemens, will face the Nationals on Thursday and Friday at RFK.

OK, lots of questions. Let's get to it.

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National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.: Hey there Barry, I have been following this team since before they even played in the country, so I have been reading your stuff since the panera day. Anyway, I wanted to know two quick things: What is the status of Pattersons contract, as in the Nats need to keep this guy! Last nights effort has to just pump these guys up. And like every other homer on the this board, what moves do you see them making to save these guys arms in the long haul. Stanton seems to be a match up type guy, I would love another mid-late innings guy to shore them up.

Barry Svrluga: Ah, the Panera days. I remember them ... well, fondly would be a lie.

Patterson is earning just $322,500 this year, but is arbitration-eligible at the end of the season, so he'll earn at least a couple million more next year. But he's still under club control, so there's no issue of losing him to free agency right now.

As for the search for another arm: Bowden is always hunting and pecking, and he continues to call about Tampa's Danys Baez, a closer who could set up Cordero. But the Devil Rays are asking a ton. The Nationals have scouted Ted Lilly of Toronto, who would give them a left-hander. Will any of this come to frution? It's hard to say. Bowden is adamant that to trade one of the few prospects the team has -- and there are more decent arms than the team originally thought -- he'd have to get a No. 1 or No. 2 starter in return. Lilly (8-9, 5.38 ERA) doesn't fit that bill.

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Ashburn, Va.: Barry ... do you know what the Astros pitching rotation is looking like for the weekend series ... any chance Clemens will be pitching one of the three games?

Barry Svrluga: Indeed, Clemens will pitch Friday night against Ryan Drese. Should be a big crowd on hand for that one. But if you want to see the pitcher who probably has a better chance of winning the Cy Young, come Thursday, when Oswalt will face Esteban Loaiza.

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Northwest, Washington, D.C.: WOW! What a turn of events yesterday with Guzman and Castilla being benched; Wilkerson pulled from the lead-off spot; Schneider up to the five spot. It all makes sense and the results were obvious last night ...

However, Baerga is not a suitable third baseman and Carroll would be fine temporarily. What are the Nat's doing to fill these needs for the long hall? Any chance we might see Rick Short or even Zimm playing third base before the end of the season?

Barry Svrluga: Ryan Zimmerman, the top pick in the draft, could be a September call-up when rosters expand, but more for the experience than to really fill a need. The ideal would be for Guzman to get hitting and let Carroll fill in at third. That's the defensive lineup that ended the game last night. And part of the proposed Baez trade would be pursuing Tampa SS Lugo, though again, dealing with the Devil Rays is nearly impossible.

Baerga is only a two or three game solution. He can still hit a little bit, but his glove and speed -- Did I say speed? Seems like there should be another word for it -- are more than suspect.

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Sec 213, Row 13: Barry,

By the time this chat opens, I hope Christian Guzman has found a comfortable seat on the bench to watch the Nats. Everyone I know has been saying for over a month that he needs to sit down (or go down to New Orleans). I cringe when Guzman steps to the plate with runners in scoring position with two outs. Inning over.

Let Jamie Carroll play some infield. Granted he might not be the defensive player Guzman is, but he'll out hit him. (Heck, most of the beer vendors in the upper deck at RFK can probably out hit Guzman.)

Barry Svrluga: Well, Section 213, as you know by now, Guzman was benched last night, an experiment that will last at least a few games. And wouldn't you know it? Jamey Carroll came through with two hits, including a two-out RBI single. Will he do that every night? Of course not. But for one night, it worked.

Check out Dave Sheinin's story about Guzman's benching in this morning's Post. It has some very interesting statistical references in it.

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Troy, N.Y.: Frank pinch hit Jamey Carroll for Ryan Church in a crucial situation Mon night. Is there ANY chance they will start letting Church hit lefties now and then? The guy has crushed lefties in the couple of dozen plate appearances he has gotten. Why are they so positive that he can't do it given his performance to the contrary?

Barry Svrluga: In that situation, Frank -- incorrectly, as it turned out -- figured Carroll would have a more patient at-bat, would take a few pitchers, and would be much less likely to ground into a game-ending double play. So what happened? Carroll went up there looking for a fastball, and grounded into a double play on the first pitch he saw.

I don't think Church will get to hit against lefties consistently this season, particularly after Nick Johnson comes back and Wilkerson moves to left field.

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Dennis Hopper: Pop quiz, tough guy. You're Jim Bowden and you can trade for a pitcher or a hitter. What do you do? (And you can't "shoot the hostage" or "trade for Rick Ankiel.")

Barry Svrluga: Pitcher. Pitcher. Pitcher.

Bowden has said that he wants pitching, pitching, pitching, yet his last two deals have traded pitching (Ohka and Day) for offense/defense (Junior Spivey and Preston Wilson). If he's got another move in him, it's for pitching.

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Washington, D.C.: Love your work, Barry.

So how is the team's morale now that they are facing a good dose of adversity? A bit down or still thrilled to have the 4th best record in baseball?

Barry Svrluga: Thank you.

The morale is in between. The loss on Monday night was a bit demoralizing, but they played quite well last night. They understand that they're in first place, and they've accomplished quite a bit. But forget anyone else's preseason expectations now. They know they have a chance to win a division title. A slump in mid-July isn't going to deter them from that goal.

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Rosslyn, Va.: I just received Boz' weekly email. Do you need us to bail you out of jail?

Barry Svrluga: Explanation, for those of you who don't receive Thomas Boswell's always interesting email column. (You can sign up on the Post web site, and it will be delivered to you free of charge on Wednesdays.) Boz revealed that he and I planned to measure the fences at RFK Stadium today. Well, after I purchased a 300-foot tape measure this morning at my favorite Capitol Hill hardware store -- Frager's, at 11th and Pennsylvania SE -- we did just that.

We were booted off the field after measuring the left-center field gap. I can't reveal the results yet, as we'll likely write about it for tomorrow's Post. But it's very interesting.

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Washington, D.C.: Barry, So what are thoughts on the Preston Wilson deal so far? He seems to be a pretty good pickup. Aside from everything else, he has great speed -- something the Nats are lacking in. How did he score from first last night on a Church line drive that got cut off in the gap? I was shocked. Will be interested to see how it works out when Johnson comes back though. What is his expected return date?

Also, can you comment on the interest in Danny Baez? Are we also interested in their shortstop? Who would Bowden have to give up to make that happen? Thanks for doing these chats.

Barry Svrluga: The Wilson deal, so far, is just fine. He made a very poor play in center field on Monday night that cost a couple runs, but in general, I've been impressed with how he's moved around in CF. His knees seem to be OK, which was a concern. And you're right: Now that Spivey is injured, he is the fastest National (though Carroll could be close). Scoring from first last night on that ball is something no other Washington player could have done.

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Glen Head, N.Y.: So is the decision to keep playing Guzman (even as a pinch-hitter) all about his big contract and sensitive nature?

Barry Svrluga: Before last night, that's a good synopsis. But it came to a head in the ugly loss on Monday night when he made an error, bunted into one double play and failed to get a sacrifice down in the eighth. He pinch ran last night, and won't start for at least a few days -- more if the team keeps winning, I'd say.

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Barry Svrluga: So it's 2:20 p.m., and Nick Johnson is taking batting practice at RFK.

Easy, now. This doesn't mean too much. But he's in the cage, looks fairly comfortable. He's under the watchful eye of head trainer Tim Abraham and hitting coach Tom McCraw.

I'll talk to Nick before the game and see how he felt.

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Washington, D.C.: Help? I've been to five games at RFK, but my first DAY game there is this weekend. For the sake of my mom, who is accompanying me, what baseline is the shady side? First, right?

I thank you, my dear mother thanks you.

Barry Svrluga: In general, the first base side is shadier. Though I got to tell you -- this place is hot hot hot. Last night was simply stifling.

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Logan Circle: Please, Barry, what is that awful song that plays in RFK before Jamey Carroll's at-bats? It's all acoustic guitar, and it may be the least energizing psych-up song this side of the Benedictine Monks.

Can you lend him some Megadeath, or even the Black Eyed Peas? Or, better still, some Chuck Brown?

Barry Svrluga: Woah, now, Logan Circle. That song is "Warehouse" by the Dave Matthews Band, and if you heard the whole thing, I don't think you'd think it wasn't energizing. Live, it's unbelievable.

(Disclosure: Carroll and I share a love -- some would call it infatuation -- with DMB. It's not something I admit to everyone, but ... )

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309 row 7: Any truth to the Barry Larkin Returns rumors? Is he in shape?

Barry Svrluga: Let's be clear: This is not a rumor. Bowden continually calls Larkin, the former Reds shortstop, to ask him about returning. But Larkin keeps saying, "No." It's very clear. There has been no indication that he's changing his mind.

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Vienna, Va.: Thanks for chatting, Barry,

Just a comment here really ... I just got around to reading George Solomon's column regarding Ron Darling and I really have no problem with him, in fact I like him. He's been improving the entire year and seems like a smart guy. I feel Proctor is more prone to stating the obvious and sometimes doesnt seem to kno the game all that well. But I like him overall and like his enthusiasm on the more dramatic calls.

By the way, I went thru my old baseball cards and was happy to find 5 or 6 of Ron Darling. Excellent.

washingtonpost.com: George Solomon: He's Not the Television Darling Just Yet for Nats Fans (Post, July 10)

Barry Svrluga: As I'm usually at the park, I've only watched a few games on TV, and really don't have a feel for how good or bad the team of Proctor and Darling is. I can say this, though: Darling is a smart guy who is really dedicated to working on getting better. He knows that if he wants to continue this as a career, he must have a good year. He really likes this team, too.

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20003: And the true distance from home plate to dead center is ... ?

Barry Svrluga: Hey, 20003, that's my zip code.

Be patient. You'll find out soon enough.

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Ashburn, Va.: Hey Barry,

All things considered ... and only one week under his belt ... but Nice week for Wilson ... eh?

Wilson Fans - 1

Wilson Hatah's - 0

Barry Svrluga: Well, there was that dropped fly ball. But other than that, he's contributed each night. I think Bowden's description of the team's hopes for him on the night of the trade were very interesting: He's going to go 1 for 4 a lot, but they just hope the 1 is a three-run double or a home run.

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Washington, D.C.: Why so much first pitch swinging? Maybe these guys should read a few excerpts from Moneyball and realize that taking a pitch here and there isn't a bad thing (Jose Guillen). They seemed to be doing better earlier in the season when they were working counts. Thoughts?

Barry Svrluga: Team average overall: .258.

Team average on first pitch: .336.

Team slugging percentage overall: .394.

Team slugging percentage on first pitch: .506.

Not sure your theory holds up.

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Washington, D.C.: Wouldn't Alan Embree be a nice fit for the Nats? Just designated for assignment, lots of playoff experience, veteran, lefty, starting to come around ...

Barry Svrluga: Boy, Embree looked done by the end of his tenure with the Red Sox. Plus, the Nationals already picked up the veteran lefty they wanted in Mike Stanton. I think we should wait and see how that works out. Stanton allowed a hit to Todd Helton last night, but it was a bloop job. No big deal. He already has the job Embree would take.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Why was Schneider HBP twice last night? Did the Rockies think his stance was overly aggressive? And is that why he's been hitting so well lately?

Barry Svrluga: Actually, the reason he's been so good is because he hasn't been overly aggressive. He's being disciplined at looking for a pitch in a certain area, and not swinging before he gets that pitch. He's a streaky guy, so he might not be able to keep this up, but after going 1 for 2 with two HBPs last night, he's up to .283.

It'll be interesting to see if Robinson sticks with the same lineup tonight.

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Alexandria, Va.: Barry, thanks for the articles and chats. You always have great insights. Can you tell us a little about what patterson is like off the field? I never see him crack a smile, not even after last night's win. Is he always so serious?

Barry Svrluga: You're too kind, Alexandria.

Patterson is very interesting. He is extremely focused on the day before one of his starts, and very, very focused on the day of his starts. He seems to be a creature of habit, and wants to limit outside distractions when he pitches. On the mound, too, he's not terribly emotional.

But boy, he's pitching well.

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Barry Svrluga: NEWS NEWS NEWS

The Nationals claimed outfielder Kenny Kelly off waivers from the Reds and designated Wil Cordero for assignment. Kelly hit .333 in seven games with the Reds, and hit .326 with nine doubles, four triples, three homers, 17 RBI and 18 stolen bases in 22 attempts in 61 games for Class AAA Louisville.

And yes, you're right: It's that Kenny Kelly, the one wo used to play QB for the University of Miami.

Cordero, 33, was hitting .118 for the Nationals. Manager Frank Robinson like Cordero's clubhouse presence, but he was 0 for 14 as a pinch hitter and 0 for 18 with runners in scoring position.

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Arlington, Va.: Who's pitching for the Nationals against Clemmons Friday night?

Barry Svrluga: That would be Ryan Drese.

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Arlington, Va.: What's the status on the bidding for new owners of the Nats & when do you think the winners will be announced?

Barry Svrluga: As I've said before, I really don't think we'll know the owner until after the World Series. Baseball officials tend to get very distracted during the playoffs, and they don't want other major announcements to detract from the excitement of that time.

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Boynton Beach, Fla.: Dear Mr. Svrluga,

National fan here. Addressing nex year (2006). It appears that the Nats might have the most free agent in MLB due to signing the palyers to only one year contracts. Probably due to the keeping the team's purchase price lower. Do you see any problem in signing the players next year?

Thanks.

Barry Svrluga: The free agents next year are Tony Armas Jr., Joey Eischen, Antonio Osuna, Wil Cordero (just designated for assignment, so he won't count) and Gary Bennett. That doesn't seem like too many to me.

Castilla is signed through next year. They will have some interesting arbitration cases and decisions to make on who to offer long-term contracts (Wilkerson, Schneider), but I'm not sure free agency is a big deal.

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Section 438: Ahh, love DMB. I thought the music was a great choice, although I prefer "Drive In, Drive Out". I'm trying to figure out if that's a good baseball song or not. Probably not, since the next line is "I'm leaving" and Carroll is not a HR hitter.

The last time I was at RFK before this summer? A DMB concert. I remember foul poles were up, as they were trying to attract a baseball back then. In fact, I was sitting near a foul pole back then, too. Where is that old ticket ...

Barry Svrluga: Very interesting. I saw DMB out at Nissan Pavillion on June 26 (Carroll, Ryan Church and Zach Day in attendance as well). Great show.

I'm not sure about "Drive In, Drive Out" as a baseball song. I think Jamey's choice is very good.

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W. Cordero DFA: Hallejuah. Now instead of the worst pinch hitter and every day player, we just have the worst every day player.

Barry Svrluga: Except Guzman isn't playing every day right now.

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Ashburn, Va.: Hey Barry, thanks for the chat as always. What's your take on the Marlins'O's deal that's about to/maybe/could/probably happen this week? Are the Marlins trying to make a comeback, forcing Bowden into getting a rent-a-pitcher of his own?

(By the way, I'll admit I'm a DMB follower as well, and I send you a copy of their Nissan concert from June if you're interested.)

Barry Svrluga: No, I don't think this is about the Marlins trying to force the Nationals' hand. I think it's about the O's wanting to get a frontline pitcher and make a move for the division title. What the Marlins are up to, I'm not sure.

And yes, I'll take a copy of that Nissan show. You can send it to me at the Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, DC, 20071.

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Natsville, D.C.: "It's not something I admit to everyone, but ... "

Um, Barry, I think you just did. Don't you know that everyone watches this chat?

Barry Svrluga: Good point, Natsville. I shouldn't be ashamed. I should embrace it.

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Alexandria, Va.: I was at that fiasco of a game Monday night. Preston Wilson really looked bad on the fly ball he turned into a triple. Is he normally good on defense? I enjoy your work. Oh, and would you please write your name out phonetically, so we all will know how to pronounce it correctly? Thanks.

Barry Svrluga: He's not supposed to be THAT bad, but I'm not convinced he's significantly better than Wilkerson in center. Wilkerson, though, will have less strain on his badly beat-up body when he moves to left field when Johnson returns.

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Falls Church, Va.: So was that the only time in history that a MLB game ended with a balk?

Barry Svrluga: The Brewers writers were saying that it actually happened in one of their games a couple years ago. But I have no hard data on it.

What a wacky ending that was. If you want to see the definition of an angry man, picture Frank Robinson in the 30 minutes after the end of that game.

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Cleveland Park: Do you know what any of the other on deck songs are?

Barry Svrluga: I don't know them all, but I'll do some research and get back to you in another chat.

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Burke, Va.: Let my Guillen go ... I am not one of those who have been sitting around waiting for Guillen to explode ... I'm a big fan. Has Guillen's committment to playing hurt helped mitigate the criticism he has leveled at others in the clubhouse or has a fissure opened that cannot easily be closed?

Barry Svrluga: Good question, Burke. I don't think a fissure has been opened. I think the clubhouse, in general, has taken on a "Jose's Jose" attitude. They appreciate the way he plays. But they are a little wary of more explosions.

The guy produces, though.

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Washington, D.C.: Just got Boz's e-mail ... so I guess you weren't arrested? What happened?

Barry Svrluga: Thankfully, no arrests. I got called into the principal's office, though. More on this later.

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Silver Spring, Md.: It seems like the Nats are finally ready to deal with the issue of getting some everyday offensive production from the shortstop position.

I can understand why the Nats have given Guzman half a season to try to justify their investment in him. What I don't get is why Guzman is so reluctant to take a back seat for a while. How can it be worse to ride the bench for a while than having to bring a season-long slump to the plate 4 times a night?

Except for frequency of appearance, why isn't it at least as likely that Guzman can break the slump from a PH or platoon position?

Barry Svrluga: I think it would be a disrespectful to Guzman to think he shouldn't have some self-confidence. As I've said before, he hit .266 for six major league seasons. It's very surprising to him to hit .190, and he still believes he can do better.

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Barry Svrluga: OK, that's it for today. I'm on vacation next week -- gearing up for the stretch run -- so I believe our next chat will be two weeks from today.

And stay tuned to the Post for the epic tale of me, Boz, the tape measure, and the fences.

Have a great couple weeks. Enjoy the games.

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