Baseball

Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 12, 2006 11:00 AM

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Friday, May 12, at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions and comments about the Washington Nationals, Major League Baseball and his recent columns.

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The transcript follows.

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New Jersey Ave: Mr. Boswell,

Have we come to the unfortunate end of Eischen era in DC? What happened to Joey E.? Last year he was almost automatic. Also, what was Jose Guillen doing swinging at the first pitch with a man on third and two outs in the eighth? Good hitters would work the count on a pitcher who already pitched seven innings and was nearing the end of his rope. To go up there hacking and not working the count into his favor seems undisciplined.

Tom Boswell: New Jersey, you watch a ball game well! When Guillen jumped at the first pitch --a breaking ball-- any "student of the game" would want to scream at him. But he goes up hacking. It's his style. However, it is NOT the best style. Given a choice --and the day will come when the Nats have choices-- you'll see more patient ("Moneyball" type) hitters like Nick Johnson and, to a lesser degree, Vidro. Soriano is another free swinger. That may be one reason that Soriano has never had as many RBI as his extra-base totals would indicate that he should have.

As for Eischen, that's a sad story. Great guy, funny, tough, a clubhouse leader and favorite of Franks. But he hasn't been the same guy since the first day of spring training. Many noticed it right away. Not the same fastball. Not the same confidence or aggressive demeanor. Hindsight is always perfect, but it certainly looks like Robinson stuff with him considerably too long this season. You'd like to have two situational lefties in the bullpen. But it's not a must. Stanton is still effective and Majewski was better against lefties last season. It's hard to believe that Eischen will be with the team when it returns from this road trip. No writer wants to lose a live wire and good guy like Eischen, but --I hate to be so blunt, but it's the job-- IMO, Eischen is washed up. (I can't tell you how many people have had to eat words like that about a southpaw reliever who still has a decent breaking ball. They make countless comebacks and pitch until they are 40 and haunt you for cutting them. But that's how I see it.)

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Washington: Re: your e-mail column about Soriano: Are you out of your mind saying that Soriano hasn't butchered plays in LF? He's misplayed SEVERAL singles into doubles and triples. And he still throws like an infielder. He's got a LONG way to go in LF.

Tom Boswell: Soriano's throwing has improved. Far more important, he seems to care. And he hates it when he screws up. However, he's missed several balls that a smooth "average" left fielder would have caught. He's definitely below average. The questions is "how much" below average. He gets to more balls than Mt. (Adam) Dunn!

What matters (short-term) is that Soriano significantly changes the Nats batting order. With him, they've achieved "critical mass" and have a credible offense. I didn't say a "good" offense. But a normal one. You've seen that in the last week in several games. Except for the 11th inning last night, everybody would be saying, "They look a lot better." However, there WAS an 11th inning last night. This is when team "decides" whether to act like it has been gut shot by a couple of tough back-to-back loses or looks at the broader picture that several keys pieces seem to be working better. For example, Majewski seems to be throwing as well as last year. Rauch who --in my second-guess-- should not have come out last night may have turned a corner in his career. His relief number over the past three years --all partial seasons-- are starting to look quite good. Cordero looks VERY good. Far better than people have noticed. Since April 14th in his last 10 games, Chad has allowed only TWO hits and one run in 12 innings while strikeout out 11. He's back. And that is very important.

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Arlington, Va.: How much longer can the Nationals go with Livan!? He is absolutely brutal in the first inning so far in 2006. Would a trip to the disabled list make any sense? Yes, I know the Nats are short on starting pitchers, but that's Bowden's fault ... I mean responsibility to fix.

Tom Boswell: I had a long talk with Livan on Sunday. His knee feels great. That's the good news AND the bad news. Last season he had to change his mechanics because he couldn't bend his right (push off) leg and had to pitch "upright." Now he can bend and load up properly. But getting back to his old mechanics has taken longer than he thought. "My stuff is good. My command is #@%&^," Livan said. This is in the context that Livan has almost Maddox-level command most of the time. So his stuff, at best, is just adequate. Final point, Hernandez only felt his knee was strong enough to go back to his usual running program about 10 days ago. He thinks his fastball --which is a few mph slower than last year-- will return with better strength in his lower body. It better because the fastball he has right now isn't quite good enough to compliment his other pitches.

By July 4th, he'll be Livan hernandez again. But will he be Livan by June 4th? If Hernandez gets his form back by mid-season, there will be people lined up around the block to trade for him. But SHOULD you trade? Look at Rick Reuschel's career record. IMO, this spring is a bump in the Livo Road that will be forgotten and that he has another 1,000+ fine innings in him. We'll see.

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Coney Island, USA: Hi Tom,

I was impressed to hear Bob Costas mention that our own Tom Boswell was the first to mention steroids in Baseball way back in 88... That you thought Jose was on them (which proved to be true)... What do you think about the current situation? Is Baseball doing enough? Should MAC and Bonds have - next to their records?

Tom Boswell: I need to thank Bob for getting Canseco to say on air, "He was right." I'm always "amused" when people --including the current commissioner-- try to say that "nobody" was aware of the steroid problem and that there was no buzz about it before the late '90's. It sure seemed like a "buzz" to me the various times over the years that Canseco threatened to sue me. Funny, he never did.

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Section 312, Row 4: Hey Boz:

Any speculation about why Phillips failed to slide and overran the 2nd last night? The TV guys were mystified but I suspected that he thought the batter's strikeout was the third out and was shocked to see the throw come down.

Tom Boswell: Brain cramp?

I've never seen that before. Phillips acted like he though the ball had been hit on a hit-and-run and there was no reason to slide because he had to "find the ball." Or maybe he thought it was the third out. But the equally bad brain cramp was by Vidro. He argued with the umpire --futile 100% of the time-- while a befuddled runner was standing six feet past second base for an easy third out in the 10th inning. Instead, Phillips got back (barely) and the reds were just a base hit away from a sudden-dead win. But Cordero escaped. Chad also got out of the 9th inning despite Zimmerman --with all the time in the world-- throwing a ball six feet over Johnson's head at first for a two-base error to lead off the inning. Every once in a while Zimmerman seems to have trouble tossing the ball on plays that are not close. His hard throws are usually perfect. Soooo, always throw it hard?

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in re: the People v. Barry Bonds: Mr. Boswell:

Just one baseball fan's take...

Barry Bonds isn't close to passing a record; he's close to eclipsing a number -- 714 -- that remains iconic because of who/what it represents.

You can argue that Ruth didn't have to play against all of the best baseball players of his era because of segregation -- but that wasn't his doing. Bonds, if the overwhelming evidence is true, chose to cheat.

Ruth was clearly the greatest player of his generation -- a dominant pitcher with the Red Sox before the trade, and a player who hit more homers than most TEAMS in the early '20s -- and popularized it as no player before or since.

The numbers Bonds put up after the age of 35 are highly suspect -- but even then, his power figures don't dwarf those of his (co-conspirator) contemporaries. And he never, on his best day, personified the best romantic ideals most fans have of the game and its stars.

In the same way that Joe Gibbs could win three more Super Bowls and not eclipse the legendary Lombardi, Bonds can hit 800 homers and never eclipse Ruth or Hank Aaron.

Tom Boswell: Some good points.

But if Joe Gibbs wins three more Super Bowls --not one, but three-- he's going to eclipse a LOT of people. Sure, it's VERY hypothetical. But imagine where such a third-career comeback --from NFL to NASCAR then back to NFL-plus-NASCAR-- would stand compared to anybody.

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Arlington, Va.: I realize the Lerners/Kasten don't actually take ownership until June/July. But are they already pulling strings behind the scenes? The reason I ask is that I received an e-mail from the Nats informing me of a special promotion called "Picnic -the Park." After the Sunday, June 11 game vs. the Phillies, the Nats are inviting season's ticket holders to a picnic on the field after the game with free food, players available for photos, music, fun for the kiddies, etc. I mean this is the kind of promotion a team with a real owner and savy marketing staff would pull off. Is this a coincidence or the first sign that there is a new sheriff in town with regard to customer service?

Tom Boswell: MLB will vote on the Lerner's next week. (It's a small dunk of course.) So you'll see Lerner-leerner-Kasten input much sooner than next month, especially in fan-friendly areas like the one you mention. There are a LOT of fences to be mended. This is actually a plus for the new owners. If they do a decent job of reconnecting with their fan base --and expanding it-- it will FEEL like they did a good job. And if they do a good job --after all the grief Nats fans have put up with-- it may feel like a VERY good job.

MLB has managed to "set the bar" so low that it is actually in a hole UNDER GROUND.

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Toronto, On: So - going back to the question about your column on Soriano the other day, and your answer to it. You didn't really answer did you? You said that 'Soriano hates it when he screws up'. But you also said that he hadn't screwed up in the field.

Get it right! Anyone can tell that he's an E waiting to happen out there. I won't dispute that he's getting better, but your unconditional love of him makes me wonder whether there's another agenda out there.

He just ain't as good as you think. And if he's signed for next year, it will be a colossal waste of money that should be spent on the farm system. I have no interest in seeing Soriano when we know already that the 2007 Nats won't be great. There is no use for him here.

Clear enough???

Tom Boswell: Soriano haters are baseball know-nothings. Hate the trade, and the forced move to the outfield, if you want, but don't hate them player. As I wrote, he hasn't missed even one SIMPLE play yet. He's already making the routine plays. Right now, he's better than Frank Howard, Greg Luzinski and countless other slugging leftfielders over the years. And none of them stole 30 bases a year. Anybody who thinks Soriano isn't improving isn't watching. And anybody who thinks that Soriano, with comparable improvement over the rest of the season, won't be an adequate LFer is almost certainly wrong. Now WILL he CONTINUE to improve. We'll see. I bet he will.

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Rockville, Md.: Now that we have new owners, what sort of payroll should we expect from them over the next couple of years. Obviously a $190 million Yankee or $120 million Boston payroll is out of the question, but is there any way they'd be willing to spend $90 to $100 like the Mets and Braves?

Tom Boswell: I don't think it's as simple as "pick a number." I assume each player, each possible trade or free agent signing, will be looked at as a separate mid-to-long-term decision. If the decision is "GREAT, let's do it," then I don't think the word "budget" will even be mentioned. However, if nothing (expensive) is on the table that lights them up, you might see a payroll next year that's not much larger than this season.

In other words, they are not going to spend money just to spend money (and apperase fans). Jose Guillen is an example of a tough decision in this area. Do you give a long-term contract to a player who can't hit in his home park? Especially if the new park isn't ready until '09? So, you could see a RF next year who makes LESS money than Guillen does now. Would it be better to overpay for Player X --and be stuck with him for 5 years-- but have "happy" fans in '07. Or would it be better to say, "Look at the Tigers' arms." They were historically awful the day before yesterday. Now, they lead MLB in ERA and everybody who goes out there for Detroit throws 96 (Verlander), except for the guys who throw 98 (Rodney) or 100 (Zumaya on one pitch in Camden Yards this week).

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Fair Lakes, Va.: Tom, In my opinion, the starters are doing surprising well (other than Livan, who's dragging down all of the Nats, except for his hitting). Zach Day, Tony Armas and O'Connor have been nice surprises so far. Throw in a healthy Patterson and the usual Livan and you've got a decent rotation.

Tom Boswell: Nobody is allowed to think such thoughts. The Nats have been in a baseball "bear market" since last season. So, that means the future will be identical to the (recent) past.

After the way he fell off the edge of the (baseball) world last year, I thought, "I was wrong. He's not a sinkerballer who can win a dozen games a year. He's inconsistent and a little immature." So, now he pitches the kind of back-to-back games that the Nats THOUGHT he might be able to pitch last year before they threw up their hands. It's a weird game. However much you think you know, cut it in half.

As long as Armas isn't asked to pitch the seventh inning --which seems to bedevil him-- he may be pretty good. He seems to lose confidence when his pitch count approaches 100. You can live with that (easily) if he keeps pitching the way he has so far. It's too early on O'Connor but he's a great story.

Patterson's arm is (I hope) being protected from Frank's life-long competitiveness. He HATES losing. He thinks everybody should be tough. That's makes TONIGHT'S GAME much more important to him than it is to plenty of other managers. Pitchers need to stand up to Frank and say, "That's all I've got tonight, skip." But how many --especially young pitchers-- can do that, especially with somebody as formidable as Frank? But it's necessary.

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Woodbridge, Va.: So Boz, with Kasten's plan in mind, the wise Nats fans will be heading down past Potomac Mills and seeing some minor league ball next year? I remember seeing Ron Gant and Steve Avery as Durham Bulls a looooong time ago and loved seeing them be big major leaguers down the road...

Tom Boswell: Part of the pleasure of having an MLB team back --and a BIG part of the pleasure for many fans in town like Boston and Atlanta-- is a serious interest in minor league players, especially those playing close enough to the home town to see when they are "down on the farm."

Nats fans are just learning all the aspects of what they've gotten back. "Building for the future" doesn't mean building for 10 years in the future. Some players, drafted out of high school, may be 4-5 years away. But players drafted with No. 1 and No. 2 picks may --like Cordero and Zimmerman-- be in the majors in 2 years. And when you trade for "prospects," you are frequently talking about players who, if you acquired them THIS July might well be called up to the majors by September of '07 and would be in the MLB lineup or rotation in '08 or '09 at the latest.

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Columbia, Md.: There seems to be a feeling among some fans (see earlier poster). That the Lerners should gut the team and plan to lose 2/3 of their games over the next 3-5 years. Is that wise? Is that what we should expect?

There's a quote in Moneyball that goes something like "There is a way for a team to show up and get paid without even trying. It's called rebuilding. Some teams do it for years."

Tom Boswell: As I have said, this is not a "blow up and start over" situation. The Nationals do not have to be BAD --more than 95 loses-- during this process. But they may not be a WINNING team (as they were almost all of last year) for a while. How long is that? Nobody knows. Far too many variables. However, by August 1, we'll know far more about which current players the new manager ment considers part of the future. In other words, not long to wait for quite a bit of new information on what the next couple of seasons may look like.

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Seattle, Wash.: Verlander hit 101 in Safeco!

Tom Boswell: Good info.

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Arlington, Va.: I am a loyal Nats fan, who still holds my lifetime allegiance to the Red Sox. But I have to admit, even as a Sox fan, the ridiculous hype that the media whips up every time we play the Yankees is now out of control. If I were non-Sox or Yankees fans, I would be so sick of it by now. Does every game have to be on ESPN? Is the rest of America as tired of this as I am?

Tom Boswell: You can overexpose anything. When it comes to over-hype and complete disregard for news judgment --as opposed to The Best Possible Ratings in New York Tonight-- ESPN holds all the world records.

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Soriano Convert in Section 213: Tom, when the Nats got Soriano - I thought that adding Galaraga and Sledge was too much to give up for a player whose stats appeared to be greatly enhanced by that Bandbox of a stadium in Texas.

Then he nearly walked out of camp over a position change that he should have been smart enough to embrace given his defensive shortcomings at 2B.

Now, we're 6-7 weeks into the season. Soriano has hit a homer every 15 ABs, including that BOMB in Cincy the other night and a 3 HR game at RFK. His attitude (from what I can see) has done a 180. He still needs work in the OF, but he now seems committed to the change and has appears to have embraced what it might mean to his career...

He's won me over. Just don't hit him leadof...

Tom Boswell: Soriano should bat 3-4-5 to find out if he's a true RBI man. What he can do at leadoff is known. Besides, Byrd looks like he may be capable of drawing enough walks --and running well enough-- to be a pretty good leadoff man. There are players with potential --whose careers have gone up, down and sideways due to injuries, team changes, role changes-- that you find yourself pulling for. Byrd is one.

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20009: If I say "Daniel Cabrera" 5 years from today, what reaction do you think I'll get from an Orioles fan?

Thank you.

Tom Boswell: Probably the wrong one.

There are players you CANNOT give up on. Cabrera is one of them. He has J.R. Richard's body --and potential. How long do you wait for him? One day less than "forever."

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Section 320 RFK: Tom: In hindsight, the loss of Luis Ayala has totally disrupted what last year, was a very good bullpen, especially late in close games. What's the chances of Ayala coming back from his elbow injury and being the dependable setup man he was to The Chief last year. I miss him tremendously. Obviously, so do the NATS!!

Tom Boswell: Ayala was a big loss, but Rauch --for now-- is pitching just as well. The bullpen may not be the problem. It's GETTING to the bullpen. Cordero, Majewski, Rauch, Stanton and Felix Rodriguez may not be as good as last year's pen. But, the way things are developing, it's certainly not a "weakness." The Nats need a mediocre innings-eating long man who can work 2-3-4 innings when starters get knocked out early so that the five relievers mentioned above don't get overworked.

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Re: Picnic: Not only are the Nats providing free food, etc. for all season ticket holders, including those with 20 game plans, but if the June 11 game isn't in your plan they are mailing FREE TICKETS TO THE GAME. That bar is rising from its tomb.

Tom Boswell: Interesting.

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Washington: "Nats fans are just learning..."

Boz, I hate when you preface statements like that. We do know some baseball. Most of us knew what a glove, ball and bat were before the Nats came to town. That's the reason we became Nats fans, because we liked baseball first.

Tom Boswell: Gee, I'm sorry. I wasn't talking about YOU.

This chat gets a ton of great questions --but they cover a huge range. I always read ALL the questions afterward since it's only possible to answer a fraction. I want to get a sense of what people want --where they are on that spectrum of interest/knowledge about the game. There are plenty of lifelong baseball fans in this area but there are also a lot of nice people who, after 33 years without a team here, would like the "class" to go a little slower so they can catch up. It's tough to be a "full-service provider" to a fan base that has such a wide range of needs from the very sophisticated to the beginners. But we're tryin'!

See you next week!

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Charlottesville, Va.: I saw that you talked about Bonds, Ruth and Aaron in your chat two Fridays ago. I'm a grad student at UVA studying attitudes. Given the current Ruth/Bonds debates going on, I talked my advisor into putting a test online that measures what peoples' unconscious preference is. Sometimes it's the same, and sometimes it's different. In any case, it takes 5-7 minutes and it'll give you feedback on whether you unconsciously prefer Ruth or Bonds. So far the results show that it's very even. I was actually expecting there would be more of a preference for Ruth. We plan to put a test up between Bonds and Aaron if Bonds starts catching him. It's at implicit.harvard.edu and the link is in the bottom right region of the page if you're interested. Thanks for your time, Colin

Tom Boswell: Just saw this question. Thought some chatters might find it interesting.

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Washington, D.C.: Here's why the TV situation is ridiculous: I (and other people who WANT to be good fans of this team) can't intelligently discuss this team, because I don't actually see them enough. I'd love to be able to give my opinion on John Rauch and the corner he's turning, but I don't even know what the guy looks like. Sad.

Tom Boswell: That IS sad.

When you are 6-foot-11 and throw 91-92, the hitters seem to react like the pitch is "a foot faster." Maybe because a 6-11 pitcher --whose arms are also much longer than a 6-1 pitcher-- is actually releasing the ball (perhaps) a foot closer to the hitter.

Also, Rauch has been much better at throwing knee-high strikes this season. The "tilt" on the pitch from a man so tall who throws almost directly overhand (and who is also standing on a hill) is quite extreme.

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