Wednesday, May 2, 1 p.m. ET

The Washington Nationals

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Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 2, 2007; 1:00 PM

With a new season underway, Washington Post staff writer Barry Svrluga was online Wednesday, May 2, at 1 p.m. ET to take your questions and comments about the 2007 Nationals.

The transcript follows.

Svrluga covers the Nationals beat for The Post and writes the Nationals Journal blog for He's also the author of "National Pastime: Sports, Politics, and the Return of Baseball to Washington, D.C."

Full Coverage: Washington Nationals


Barry Svrluga: Greetings folks from San Diego, where it's always cooler than I think it will be. I mean, this place is south of Los Angeles, right. But it's always in the 60s. Don't get me wrong: as a native New Englander, I love it.

Some pretty good pitching in this series so far -- John Patterson, Jake Peavy, Shawn Hill, Chris Young. But the Nationals have to do something about this offense.

Lots of questions. Keep 'em coming, and let's get rolling.


The past week: Starting with the Mets series, it really feels like the season just started. The Nats are competitive with the suddenly good starting pitching, but still outmanned. What has been the attitude of late inside the clubhouse? Any discernible change?

Barry Svrluga: I have to say that the attitude is quite refreshing. Most of the guys seem to genuinely get along, they understand that April doesn't determine an entire season, they take it seriously but don't seem defeatist during the down times. It's somewhat hard for sports writers to have an absolute grasp on a clubhouse, particularly early in the season. But I can tell you that the atmosphere is decidedly better than, say, last year at this time, and it'll be interesting to see how the guys Manny Acta has designated as "leaders" develop -- Kearns, Lopez, Zimmerman and Schneider. Some harsh words from Schneider about the offense last night, things he wouldn't have said in the past, I don't think. Might be a step forward.


Glen Echo: Barry

Part of me thinks Nick Johnson will not return this season. That part of me is wrong, right?

Barry Svrluga: Yes, that part of you is wrong -- unless things take a terrible turn for the worse. Johnson's progress has been swift over the last 10 days or so. He is noticeably losing weight, and he's doing all sorts of leaping and bounding and sprinting and stuff. I keep telling him I'll become interested in all that stuff when he swings a bat in the cage. He's a big believer in building timing, so it's not like when he starts hitting, he'll be ready for the majors. But I'm thinking of revising my timeline for his return -- which I had always kept at Aug. 1 (my own guess) and now think could be much closer to mid-June.


Bethesda, Md.: I think the Nationals miss Soriano. His 1 HR would make him a perfect fit for the cleanup spot.

Barry Svrluga: Great point. Finally, Soriano homered yesterday. He did some sort of strange bird flap after he crossed the plate.

Question: Does the homer count if it was off Tony Armas Jr.?


Section 213, Row 12: Barry,

How much better would this team be with Grady Sizemore and Jason Bay in the outfield, Brandon Phillips in the middle infield, and Cliff Lee and Chris Young in the rotation?

MLB owned the team at the time and ran it like it was a furniture store that was liquidating its assets. Why were the other MLB teams complicit in this -- shouldn't the Twins, Tigers, et al, have been livid when the Expos gave three prospects (Lee, Sizemore, Phillips) to the Indians for Bartolo Colon and then turned around and traded Colon to the White Sox for three non-prospects?

Barry Svrluga: Those were strange, strange times for the Expos. Remember, they were being told that they were going to be "contracted", a fancy term for "blown out of the water." I remember a story about one of the front office members at the time sitting in a room at spring training with a list of all the prospects and minor league affiliates and stuff on a big board, and then-team president Tony Tavares walking in and writing "Contracted" across it all. This team wasn't even supposed to exist, so strange moves were made indeed.


The dead ball era returns: Barry: Watching the Nats this week, including (where's my caffeine again?) the last two games, I've come to the conclusion that MLB has not only taken the steroids out of baseball, they've taken them out of THE baseball. Did they de-juice the ball or what?

Barry Svrluga: I would not link anything the Nationals do (or, more accurately right now, don't do) to steroids, or the lack thereof, or even the juiced ball. This team is simply struggling, particularly with runners in scoring position -- though they had just two of those last night against Chris Young (one of those guys mentioned above that was traded away for -- gulp -- Einar Diaz).

One other thing: Petco Park is simply huge, particularly to the alleys and to right field. It's 400 in straightaway center, but if you hit one to the gap, you better get on your horse, because your best hope is a triple, not a homer.


Stan's Pocket: Do you think that Bowden will start dangling one of our starters for hitting help? Seems like everyone is pitching well.

Barry Svrluga: Absolutely don't think so, unless someone wanted Jerome Williams, which they won't. Have you heard the following quote from the GM: "Pitching, pitching, pitching." I have also heard this version: "Pitching, pitching, pitching, pitching, pitching and pitching." It has seemed, to be sure, like lip service at times over the course of his career. But no one -- NO ONE -- should take a poor (read: horrendous) offensive month and start thinking that the team is going to trade what currently looks like a few starters that might have potential.

Shawn Hill is a keeper. He has to stay healthy, but he's a keeper. Hitters are constantly comparing his sinker to that of Brandon Webb, which is high praise indeed. This is a make-or-break year for John Patterson, who at 29 still has potential. Bergmann has shown his stuff is good enough to compete. Chico is being rushed, but why would you give up on him now?

Trading away pitching for hitting? If that happens, serious questions about the Kasten/Bowden plan would have to be asked.


natsfaithful Washington, D.C.: Barry,

I appreciate the frequent injury updates for players on the DL, but I think there are at least two guys who are left out of these updates. Is there anything to report on O'Connor or Escobar? Are they with the team? Is there a projected date for their return? How do you think their returns will help the team? Also, do you have any openings on your staff? Keep up the excellent work!

Barry Svrluga: Escobar: He began a "throwing program" at extended spring training in Viera, Fla., last week. He's still coming back from that separated shoulder he suffered last September. Manny Acta constantly misses him because this team needs a right-handed bat off the bench, but I think I mention him less because he has never stayed healthy and his progress is always slow. He's not close to returning.

O'Connor: Also at extended spring. I'll check in with him in the next week or so, but he's not scheduled to return till June at best, and there's certainly no guaranteed spot in the rotation for him when he does. Keep in mind: Jason Simontacchi will probably join the rotation next week, filling Jerome Williams's spot, and it'll take an injury or poor performance by someone to open up a spot for O'Connor.


RE: Soriano: Has Armas Jr thrown another pitch yet?

Barry Svrluga: Game was actually suspended. I really, really wish Armas had been in the game when it was held, because by the new rules they pick up where they left off, and for once I could've experienced the actual reality of what I always felt was true, that it takes Armas about 14 hours between pitches.


The Hill, D.C.: Barry: after Manny left King in to pitch to Bard instead of bringing in Rausch to turn him around, we get a squeeze play last night where Bowie, a lefty, could not have known the squeeze was coming. Do you consider these mistakes by the manager or just plays that happen in a baseball game? Regardless our hitters have to come through but the manager had a big effect on those two runs. Thanks.

Barry Svrluga: Acta admitted that he was getting "greedy" by leaving King in there against Bard on Monday night. He really, really wanted to stay away from Jon Rauch, and if Bard had come up with a runner on -- meaning he could have tied the game -- King would have been out. As it turned out, Rauch had to come on to get the last out of the eighth. Not Acta's most shining moment, but I understand the instinct.

Bowie: If you're aware, you should be able to keep track of base runners regardless of what hand you throw with. And that squeeze was a bit of a safety squeeze any way, because Kouzmanoff didn't break hard to the plate right away. I don't fault Acta for that, but that's just me.


Point of Rocks, Md.: So what's different with Bergmann? His control seems better, but his pitches look like they're sharper. Did he make some sort of mechanical change? Did something just click?

Barry Svrluga: I would say both. The big thing he mentions mechanically is staying on top of the ball rather than on the side of it. If he's on top of it, his arm has more of a downward motion, and his pitches have more sharply defined vertical break. If he gets on the side of it, his fastball just tails over the plate, and his breaking pitches spin up there flat, waiting to be hit.

Mentally, though, the adjustment might be more significant: He's not over-throwing, Randy St. Claire said yesterday, which is to say he's more relaxed and (pitching coach term coming up) he's "trusting his stuff." I'll be really, really interested to see if he can keep all of this up.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Barry,

Man, how great was it to see John Patterson outduel Jake Peavy?!?

Looks like Patterson is throwing is fastball like he actually KNOWS where it is going and that confidence begets confidence in his other pitches, as evidenced by his curveball on Monday, which was truly NASTY.

His velocity still has a couple of MPHs to go, but that is simply rebuilding arm strength through continued throwing.

I'm really looking forward to a true ACE pitching every fifth day come June and beyond!

Thanks, go Nats!

Barry Svrluga: Patterson's outing was a big step for him, to be sure. But he is the first to admit that he's not all the way back yet. He touched 92 with his fastball, but wasn't there consistently. Yes, his velocity didn't fall off to 85-86 as it did two starts ago, so that's a good sign. But when he's really back, he'll hover at 92, and his curveball will be at 77.

For him, holding together mentally during these difficult times will be the greatest challenge. I'll be interested to see him face Soriano as the first batter on Saturday at Wrigley.


Chicago?: Yo Barry, I'm on the fence about making the 3.5 hour trip to Chicago to watch my Nats play in one of the best stadiums ever. Are you excited about covering them at that venue? Worth the trip?

Barry Svrluga: Oh, absolutely worth the trip. Have you ever been to Wrigley? I'm a fan of old-school parks, of which there aren't many any more, and while the clubhouse is tiny and the tunnel to the field enough to take Jon Rauch's head off, it's a great, great venue in a great, great town.

Come on down!


Columbia, Md.: Was the recent report that Dmitri Young might try out in the outfield serious, or just a cruel joke concocted by you evil beat writers who would seem to have too much time on your hands?

Barry Svrluga: Bill Ladson of talked to Young about that possibility. I understand where the thinking is coming from -- Young wants to stay in the lineup when Nick Johnson returns. I just don't see it happening with any frequency. When Nook Logan returns, the Nationals' outfield appears set at Church in left, Logan in center and Kearns in right. If the premium is really on defense, how would Young fit into that?

And really, are we beat writers "evil"?


Washington, D.C.: Didn't get to watch more than the first four innings on Monday night since they are on the west coast, but has Zimm carried those Brooks-esque gems on Saturday into this week? Is it safe to say he is out of his defensive "slump"?? And will that translate into a 25-for-60 hot streak at the plate over the next couple weeks?

Barry Svrluga: He's certainly not out of his hitting slump, and is showing some signs of frustration. It's worth noting, too, that even when he made those jaw-dropping plays on Saturday night, he had an error in the same game.

But on Monday night, with the bases loaded and Patterson on the mound, he fielded a grounder and ran to tag third for the final out of the inning. He made it look routine, but Acta was saying yesterday how it was anything but. John Dever, Nats p.r. guy, pointed out correctly that most guys back-hand that ball, and it's a dicey play. Zimmerman's superior footwork allowed him to circle and get in front of the ball, meaning he was in better position. Those kind of subtle things will separate him from the rest of the third baseman -- as long as he can eliminate the silly errors.


Section 429: How about a MASN question? Is there any talk about the Lerner's re-acquiring the Nats' TV rights from our friend in Baltimore? Have you watched MASN? It's an insult to Nats fans or MASN programmers truly believe we're interested in Orioles highlights, Ravens programming and advertisements for restaurants in Baltimore. Please tell me there's something in the works to correct this gross inequity!

Barry Svrluga: I find MASN an intriguing topic, and I'd like to write about them soon. I have not heard anything about re-acquiring the rights, but I have heard from fans who are upset about all the Baltimore stuff on there.


Landover, Md.: I have season tickets and go to most games.

The Nats give attendance numbers that just don't fit with reality. I'd say they are off by 50 percent or more, what's the deal?

Are the Lerners rich enough to allow this team to compete with the Mets/Braves/Phillies for the long run?

Barry Svrluga: Attendance: It's standard practice in the major leagues to announce the number of tickets sold, not the number of people in the ballpark. So on a lot of those cold, cold nights in early April, you're probably right -- the people in the stadium were probably half the announced attendance.

Yes, the Lerners have enough money. They say they will "not take a dime" out of this franchise for the first 10 years. But that doesn't mean they'll go crazy spending, either. It's certainly something to watch.


Rubberman: Tonight's Matchup:

Chico 2-2, 5.70 ERA vs. Hensley 1-3, 7.86 ERA

I know the offense has been the big problem lately, but it also hasn't been too often that the Nats have sent a hurler to the mound with a lower ERA and more wins than his opponent.

Maybe we can finally win a series?

Barry Svrluga: This would seem to be a good guy for the Nationals to jump on. Chico will be pitching in front of 30-40 family and friends. He's from San Diego County -- the way, way northern part, but still San Diego County, and said he'd have a ton of people here tonight.


And really, are we beat writers "evil"? : Is Jorge truly gone? If so, the the answer is "no"

Barry Svrluga: Indeed, Jorge has left for ESPN the Magazine. And thanks for your support.


re: Evil Beat Writers: Ask Tony Armas what he thinks about that!

Barry Svrluga: Good point.


Guzmania: Since offense seems to be our problem, and Belliard has been one of our best hitters, should we fans expect more shoutouts and frustration when Guzman gets healthy? Can't help but remember his production at the plate last year.

Barry Svrluga: His production at the plate last year was, in fact, zero, considering he missed the entire season. Somehow, some people consider that to be better than 2005, when he hit .219.

The point is this: The Nationals don't believe that Guzman will hit .200 again this year. They expect .260-.270. Is that great? No. But as Acta said, "Guzman is ours." They're on the hook for his contract through next season. He's not tradeable. Is he Bowden's proudest transaction? Of course not. But Belliard was signed here as a bench player, and Acta believes Guzman deserve the chance to prove he can do in the regular season what he did in spring training.

So ... it should make for interesting fodder over the next couple of months.


Arlington, Va.: Can you tell Kearns that his intro music at RFK stinks. Zimm seems to always have a top notch intro.

Barry Svrluga: Kearns (Lexington, Ky.) is a country boy introduced to country music. Zimmerman is introduced to "This is Why I'm Hot" by Mims. Two different takes, to be sure.


Houston (Don't worry, I'm moving soon): How am I supposed to concentrate on a baseball chat when the great Steven Goff is having a soccer chat at the same time?

Barry Svrluga: It is a worthy question, and indeed one for which I do not have an answer.


MASN: To the people still griping about the O's presence on the network - this is why the good Lord invented remotes. Click it and zip it already, willya?

Barry Svrluga: I've had that thought as well.


Washington, D.C.: Any trade rumors? With the Yankees looking to acquire starting pitching, and the Nationals looking to shed salary, I've been surprised not to hear anything about Patterson and/or Rausch, maybe for some cheap offense and mid-level prospects.

Barry Svrluga: Woah. Let's be clear, as I said above, this team is not going to trade starting pitching that could be part of the future. Yes, Rauch could be traded -- but only, I think, if starting pitching was in the package in return. Cordero definitely could be traded for the same thing.

And let's be clear about this, too: Patterson, at $850,000, is not by any means expensive, and would not be "shedding salary." Yes, he'll get a significant bump in arbitration this offseason if he pitches well, but he's under club control through the 2009 season, so I don't think we'll see him traded in a salary dump.


Washington, D.C.: Any rumblings of what a team may or may not offer the Nats for "Meat" come June or July? I cannot be the only one who calls Dmitri Young, "Meat", can I?

Barry Svrluga: No, no, you're not. "Da Meat Hook" is a common nickname for Dmitri in baseball.

No rumblings yet. I think he's one of those guys for whom a market would develop late, depending on what he does over the next three months and what team needs a switch-hitter with some pop off the bench. Remember, he was cast aside by the Tigers last year, so it's not like he's coveted by the entire league. He'll have to continue to produce to drive the market.


Glen Echo: Barry

This team can finish .500 but only after a pitcher can view a pop-up to the right side of the infield or a lazy fly ball to left as a welcome event rather than the onset of an anxiety attack. The return of Logan and (this is hard to say) Guzman will significantly improve the defense, not to mention make the Nats not pitifully slow. The starting pitching is showing signs that it may not be the worst group of starters in baseball. Chad will return to early 2005 form and the return of Ayala will make the bullpen the strength of the team as many prognosticators predicted. Good pitching coupled with good defense will keep the Nats in games and Nick Johnson will return sooner than expected (he said hopefully) to raise the Nats to not the worst hitting NL team. How's that for optimism!

Barry Svrluga: That's clearly a glass-half-full stance, no doubt. But I don't think it's insane. I understand why people are queasy about Guzman replacing Belliard in the lineup, but I also understand the argument for it. This bench is not producing AT ALL, and having Belliard as a versatile performer off of it will help. The defense -- though Belliard has surprised me with his ability to turn the double play, etc. -- will likely be better with Guzman at short and Lopez at second. Though Church has done an admirable job in center, the defense will clearly clearly clearly improve in left field when he goes back over there.

The main thing to me: Is the starting pitching we've seen the last three weeks sustainable, or is it a fluke?


Intro Mus, IC: Oh my lord, Zimmerman's intro music is the worst. He looks like such a poser. Church has the best - Ozzy.

Barry Svrluga: Another view.


Rivalry: Marlins up on the Mets by 1 in the bottom of the first. My instinct is to say that's a good thing since the Mets are doing better and therefore currently harder for the Nats to catch.

Should I be rooting for a sweep by the fish, or is it time to start cheering for whoever plays the Phillies and Marlins so the Nats can stay out of the cellar?

Barry Svrluga: I would only worry about what you can control (which, I suppose, is nothing), but the last time I checked, the Nationals can't get out of last place unless they win some games -- and, in fact, some series, which they have a chance to do tonight.


Ashburn, Va.: What's the word on Shawn Hill's injury?

Barry Svrluga: Ah, sorry I didn't get to this sooner.

Hill dove while covering first base last night, trying to snare Young's wild throw, and aggravated the left shoulder that he originally hurt in Florida two starts ago. He stayed in the game, said it was tight, but it's not on his throwing arm so he shrugged it off.

Of greater concern, it seems, is the lingering forearm tightness he has. He's had an MRI, and they found no structural damage. He's on medication, which has helped with the pain, for the most part. But he still doesn't feel like he can get full extension on his pitches. The greatest concern would be that the forearm tightness actually was linked to something in his elbow -- which they say, for now, is not the case. It's a mysterious nerve problem. Well, mysterious nerve problems can be scary, and the situation bears watching.


CardsFan: Barry,

Great job covering the team in the paper, blog, chats, etc. In today's paper you noted Chris Young was a Expos/Nats prospect that was traded away for immobile, poor fielding,light hitting, Einar Diaz. Aside from Young, Sizemore, Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips ... What other valuable pieces did MLB and Omar Minaya trade away for virtually nothing.

Barry Svrluga: Jason Bay? Traded in March 2002 to Mets for SS Lou Collier. You remember him, right? (Mets traded him to Padres, who then traded him to Pittsburgh in Brian Giles deal, so the Expos weren't the only ones to give up on him.)


A Hypothetical...: P-Nats (13-9) versus big-league Nats (9-18), each with their "May 1" roster. Who wins, and by what score?

Barry Svrluga: Interesting matchup. Would John Lannan be throwing for Potomac?

And how about that P-Nats vs. Winston-Salem Warthogs brawl last week? Clint Everts, former top prospect, got hurt in it and had to miss a start, and so did another P-Nats player, enough to go on the DL. Ouch.

P-Nats, by the way, are the only Nationals affiliate with a winning record, I believe.


Section 214, Row 10: Barry please assess the roster when:

Guzman and Logan come back. Simontacchi reappears. Ayala? Johnson? Who do you project will be heading to Columbus or the waiver wire?

Barry Svrluga: I don't think it's that difficult to figure out some of them. Michael Restovich, unless he starts hitting a bit, will go when Logan reappears. Either Saul Rivera or Ryan Wagner when a bullpen move is necessary (both have options). There are some tougher decisions, though. Does Casto remain up here as a fourth outfielder/backup third baseman/backup first baseman, or do they send him down to make sure he gets regular at-bats? What is Josh Wilson's future? They need a backup shortstop, but could Lopez serve in that capacity?

Simontacchi: For now, I think he fills in Williams's spot, and Williams will go to Columbus to make "rehab" starts. Whoever's pitching better will ultimately be the guy who sticks. As Jim Bowden likes to say, "The players will make the choices for us." I think that makes a lot of sense.


Rosslyn, Va.: The Columbus Clippers placed 1B Larry Broadway on the DL. What is the injury? Does that perhaps have something to do with his abysmal start to 2007 (171/298/371 over 70AB)? Does he have anything to worry about with Josh Whitesell's hot start in Harrisburg (354/447/585 in 65AB)?

Barry Svrluga: Not sure. I will look into this and report on it in Nationals Journal.


Navy Yard: Last year when Brandon Harper got called up, he said he was on the verge of quitting baseball and going back to school. Now that his chances of being called back up appear slim, do you know if he is planning on sticking with baseball?

Barry Svrluga: Harper would be called upon if Schneider got hurt, and he knows that. I think the taste of the majors after something like 10 minor league seasons helped convince him to hang on a bit longer. He's not part of the long-term future here, but if he could collect even a few months of a major league paycheck over the next couple years, doesn't it make sense to keep playing?


Petco Dimensions: That got me thinking. What are the projected dimensions at the new park?

Barry Svrluga: You know, I just looked around for them and couldn't find them. Another thing I'll post in the Journal at some point soon. They aren't like Petco, with those deep alleys, and they're not like Philly, with the short porches. The dimensions should be "fair," but we really won't know how the ballpark plays until they get in there and we see how the air circulates, etc. Will be one of the many fun things to discover next year at this time.


Barry Svrluga: Folks, I'm afraid we're out of time. Thanks for tuning in again. I'll join you next week from Milwaukee on the last day of this road trip. Enjoy the games, and have a great week.


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