Wednesday, May 9, 1 p.m. ET
The Washington Nationals
Wednesday, May 9, 2007; 1:00 PM
With a new season underway, Washington Post staff writer Barry Svrluga was online Wednesday, May 9, 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
Barry Svrluga: Greetings from Milwaukee, where the cheese and the beer are flowing freely. End of a long (interminable?) trip today, and we'll be having our chat during the game in which the Nationals will try to snap their seven-game losing streak. Jason Bergmann against Claudio Vargas, he of the Nationals in '05, jettisoned that May. Vargas is 3-0 for the Brewers, Bergmann looking for his first win.
Let's get going.
Vienna, Va.: With the return of Nook Logan and Guzman, any chance we'll see Manny give them perpetual green lights to steal? The anemic offense needs a definite spark, and running mad on the bases is a good way to make things happen. Of course, you can't steal first. And you can easily run yourself out of big innings, but with a 9-24 record and a seeming inability to drive in runs, you gotta do something, right?
Barry Svrluga: Indeed, they have the green light, as does Felipe Lopez. But I think it's interesting that Nook Logan is not playing today, in just his third day back. Ryan Langerhans is in center. Acta didn't say it, but I would guess that if Langerhans can provide any offense at all, he'll be in the lineup more regularly against right-handers, because Logan -- a switch-hitter -- really struggles from the left side.
Guzman is showing his same lack of patience thus far. To be a spark in the second spot -- and to give Zimmerman/Church/Kearns chances to drive in runs -- he has to take some walks. No evidence that he'll do that on a consistent basis -- not this year, or in his career.
Washington, D.C.: It seems that our pitchers are getting crushed, lately. What is the good news for our pitching rotation?
Barry Svrluga: Actually, this is the least of the Nationals' problems, and that's a shock. In the last 28 games, Nationals' starting pitchers have allowed three or fewer runs 20 times. The problem: According to Stats, Inc., Nationals' starters are getting the lowest run support in the majors, 2.71 runs per game (run support for starters is defined as runs scored when the starter is in the game).
On this trip, the pitching staff has given up 2, 3, 7, 6, 5, 4, 4, 3 and 6 runs. With those very reasonable results, you'd think the offense would've been able to manage more than one win. But the hitting has been horrible.
Clubhouse Alcohol Ban: Barry,
Now that beer has been banned from the Nats clubhouse, what will they have to cry into?
Barry Svrluga: This is a very interesting question. I can tell you that not a lot of guys are happy about this. Quietly, they point out that Josh Hancock, the pitcher for the Cardinals that was killed in what looked to be a drunk driving accident, apparently got drunk at a bar, not the clubhouse. They also don't see why it is banned on the road, when they're not driving, but taking cabs or the team bus. Ray King mentioned some of this in my notebook today.
Stan Kasten, on the other hand, said the club just didn't feel comfortable providing alcohol in light of recent events.
Barry Svrluga: And we're under way here at Miller Park. Claudio Vargas fires first pitch to Felipe Lopez at 12:07 local time. It's 70 degrees. Lopez takes strike one.
Silver Spring, Md.: Yo Barry - a day game and a chat is a great combination.
What do you think of Miller Field?
Barry Svrluga: It's ok. The thing that strikes you is just how big it is. I mean, huge concourses, a massive airline-hangar type roof that slides on and off. But it doesn't have real character, I don't think, and has kind of a tricked-up outfield fence. It can be this big because it's not downtown -- it's a few miles from there, on the side of I-94. I would hope D.C. does better.
Lopez flies softly to center, and Guzman grounds to second.
Alexandria, Va.: As a season ticket holder, please, please give me some hope that this dismal team will show signs of life. I'm not asking for much. Just some key hits with runners on base. A closer who finishes 1-2-3 when the Nats are holding on to a lead. A player, any player, that I can point to and say "yeah we can build a team around him". Is it all about the new stadium or can we actually root for the team?
Barry Svrluga: Your plea is shared by many, Alexandria. I think there are two things you can latch onto. One, I'm a believer in Zimmerman. He's starting to come around now (he's up as we speak), and I think he's the guy you point to. Can he carry a team for a full season? Doubtful. But can he be a piece that, in five or six years, you look at and say, "I remember when he was a rookie, and he hit that walk-off against the Yankees, I knew he was a keeper"? Absolutely.
The ballpark is the second thing. Hopefully, it's special. But I think as this year develops, and the fruits of the plan Kasten/the Lerners/Bowden have in place seem far off, that group will be under scrutiny, and we'll have to figure out exactly what other bright spots for the future are already here, if any.
Baltimore: Who is the Nats' marquee player and why?
Barry Svrluga: Zimmerman. Glove. Bat. Composure. Make-up. Demeanor. He's not there yet. But I think he will be.
Woodley Park, D.C.: What kind of park is the new stadium going to be? A hitters' or pitchers' park? And which do you think is more beneficial to the Nationals?
Barry Svrluga: This one we don't know yet. Parks are strange in that it's not all about dimensions. We don't know how the air will circulate in there (not that the air in Washington does much circulating in, say, August). I think that'll be one of the fun things to find out next season.
Zimmerman flies out to end the inning. Bergmann on the hill to face Rickie Weeks. (Man, these Brewers have some good young players. You know what you want your Nationals to look like in three years? It might be the Brew Crew.)
Washington, D.C.: Much was made of Ryan Wagner's returning to his old arm slot. However, having watched him last year and this, he seemed like an arm injury waiting to happen. He throws completely with his arm, using no leg drive or upper body power. He is now, unsurprisingly, hurt. Thoughts?
Barry Svrluga: You could be on to something here. Wagner had shoulder trouble with Cincinnati in '05, and it cost him much of the season. He said yesterday that this problem was like that one, only worse. He also didn't mention it when it first cropped up, trying to pitch with it, and that might hurt him more.
It'll be interesting to see how quickly he can come back. There's a chance tomorrow's MRI reveals significant damage.
Anonymous: Has anyone ever suggested that maybe Ray King should get on a treadmill after the game, instead of drink beer?
Barry Svrluga: I can't imagine this hasn't come up. He has one of the most incredible bodies I've ever seen on a professional athlete.
Bergmann: Gets Weeks to pop foul to first, Hardy to pop to second, allows a groundball single up the middle to Fielder, gets Hall to fly softly to left. Scoreless after one.
Arlington, Va.: If everything went as planned, how many years would it be before the Nationals could build a top-notch farm system? Is 4 or 5 years reasonable?
Barry Svrluga: I think that's a reasonable timetable, yes. They have to draft well, even deep into the draft. They have to make some trades this year -- as they did last -- that at least bring some kids that could pan out, perhaps not sure-fire prospects, but the Shairon Martis-types (guy they got in the Stanton trade last July) that are young and have some up-side.
The thing to remember: Not all these guys are going to work out. Could Chris Marrero, last year's first-round pick, end up being a star? Sure. But there are no guarantees in baseball. The key is to have scouts talented enough to recognize potential players deep in the draft as well. The Nationals claim they have this kind of staff assembled. The proof will be what kind of prospects they have drafted and developed in three or four years.
20011:"Zimmerman. Glove. Bat. Composure. Make-up. Demeanor. He's not there yet. But I think he will be."
Barry, the guy makes great plays sometimes, but he's also making LOTS of errors this year. He's actually made a bad error in every game in my ticket package so far.
Bat? This is a joke. He strikes out way too much and just always looks rattled up there.
Composure, make-up, and demeanor? He gets shaken up badly in the field and lets it affect his hitting. Plus, he's not showing up in your articles as a team leader.
I want to like Zimmerman and believe the hype, but I'm just not seeing it right now. He's struggling badly and is doing a lot to contribute to 120 losses this year.
Barry Svrluga: You make some good points. However, I think it's important to remember that he's 22 and still developing, and on no other team would he be expected to carry such a load. Think of him as your sixth hitter right now in a good lineup. He'd be a dangerous sixth hitter.
The careless errors are definitely a concern. If he's truly going to be a Gold Glove guy, they have to come down. He has seven errors already this year. He made 15 all of last year. They have to stop.
Strikeouts: He's working to cut down on these. Last year, he struck out in 17.8 percent of his plate appearances, or approaching once every five times up. This year, he's down to 14.2 percent. I think that percentage could get down to between 10 and 12 this year, and I believe he will walk more times than the 61 he did last year.
I'm not saying he's not contributing to the losses right now. But not much of the positives about this team have to do with right now. It's about what could happen in the future, and if things go right, I think Zimmerman's a big part of that.
Nook's agent: Will the Nats give my man Nook a real opportunity to produce or stink it up? Or is Langerhans the heir apparent in CF?
Barry Svrluga: This will be interesting. I had a player today tell me that they thought Langerhans should be starting. "At least he might run into something," the player said.
It's interesting you mention this, because Langerhans is up with two on and two out in the second (two-out singles from Schneider and Fick). Let's see what happens.
Logan is a very, very good glove who is trying to learn how to hit on the fly. It can be ugly at times. But I think if Langerhans latches on to his opportunities -- if he hits at least a little -- he'll find more playing time, particularly against right-handers.
Barry Svrluga: With the count 2-2, Vargas throws a wild pitch that advances runners to second and third. So with a full count, they elect not to walk Langerhans to get to the pitcher, but instead Vargas throws a fastball right by Langerhans, up in the zone. End of inning. Continuation of debate on Langerhans/Logan.
Washington, D.C.: Why is Robert Fick getting the playing time at 1st over Casto? Fick is aging and playing poorly. This can't be part of the plan.
Barry Svrluga: Part of the plan? No. But part of a way to keep Fick fresh and make sure he can give them quality at-bats off the bench? Sure. Fick had two hits, a walk and an HBP last night, and then singled already today.
Casto: I'm not sure what the correct approach is with him. He's looked overmatched at times up here. One of his trademarks in the minors was being patient and working pitchers. He seems jumpy up here. Perhaps, because he hasn't played at Class AAA before this year, a good amount of time down there would be healthy.
Fredericksburg, Va.: The players aren't happy about the alcohol ban? Barry does The Post let you drink beer at your desk when you finish writing your story? I sure can't drink on my job.
Of course I probably shouldn't be in this chat either, but that's another issue...
Barry Svrluga: I certainly can have a drink after I finish my story and am back at the hotel, and I do. The players' point: If they're done with work, and they want to unwind and have a beer and maybe even discuss the game, why shouldn't they be able to?
No one's wanting anyone to drink on the job. Of course, if this season continues this way, maybe that would help.
Silver Spring, Md.: What's the reaction been in the Nats clubhouse and front office to Rosenthal's article last week?
Barry Svrluga: Ken Rosenthal of foxsports.com, one of the most respected baseball guys out there, wrote a story last week detailing some turnover in the baseball operations department, some apparent laxness on the part of ownership in turning around expenses for scouts and people, and the problems some people have with Jim Bowden, the GM.
(I'll be touching on some of this stuff in the paper soon.)
The reaction: In the clubhouse, not much. It was more of a front-office issue, and these players have enough on their hands at the moment. I've briefly talked to Kasten about it, and will talk with him more in-depth soon. In short, there are certainly issues with the transition to new ownership, and I'll write about some of them shortly. What needs to be monitored is whether the Lerners are ready to usher this franchise into a more successful era.
Hoping for Win No. 10 today: Have you read any of Zimm's columns in the Examiner?
Barry Svrluga: Only one. What do you think of them?
20009:"Lopez takes strike one "....
....and Acta said to Guzman and Logan, "That's called 'taking a pitch", guys, and it's a good, good thing."
Barry Svrluga: You're right. One of the interesting thing that's developed over the last week is the notion that Acta and his staff are going to have to teach teach teach during this season. And it's not teaching how to drag bunt or turn the double play. It's teaching situations -- when to go up and hack, when to work the count, when to try to go the opposite way, when to be more aggressive about driving in a run. These guys, a lot of them anyway, are learning at the big league level, and that can be ugly at times.
Bethesda, Md: Mr. Svrluga, I appreciate your work at The Post. It's wonderful, nothing short of it, to have baseball back in D.C. I was a teen and young adult when the Senators last played here and Shirley Povich's column was so respected. I like your prose style and I wish you the best. Thanks again
Barry Svrluga: Bethesda, you are kind. But I don't think it's appropriate to a) call me Mr. Svrluga; b) refer to me in the same question/chat/book as Mr. Povich. Washington, and the Post, were fortunate to have him (long before I arrived). The rest of us who cover baseball here are merely trying to hold up part of the tradition he started. If we can do it half as well, we'll do OK.
one of Barry's Babes: Any update on Patterson? I think you said yesterday he had left town to get a more elaborate assessment...
Barry Svrluga: Not much. Asked Acta about it this morning, and he said that more exams showed no structural damage, and that Patterson won't throw for a total of seven days. He's got some nerve irritation, it sounds like, but they'll see how he reacts to rest.
It's an extremely frustrating situation for all involved, no doubt.
Washington, D.C.: As a diehard fan in the making, I have patience for the Nats' on-field troubles. They're "rebuilding."
But I have no patience for goof-ups from management (see Ken Rosenthal's piece), especially with Kasten and Bowden's experience.
Do you believe the Lerner's understand the restlessness of the fan base in this regard? Or are they assuming a new stadium will make everything better?
Barry Svrluga: It's hard to say whether the Lerners and Kasten understand the restlessness. I'm sure the small crowds are an indication. They have certainly heard from people who were upset with late season ticket delivery and cold hot dogs.
But it'll be interesting to see how all this is addressed going forward. They have pledged to deliver a championship-caliber organization. When you do that, you invite yourself to be held to that standard -- and that includes fan experience above almost everything else. Will the problems be over when they get to the new park? There's no way of knowing now.
Barry Svrluga: EXTRA! EXTRA! We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this breaking news alert.
Guzman has just drawn a walk. I repeat: Cristian Guzman has looked at four pitches, decided they weren't worth offering at, and has been awarded first base.
Of course, it came with two outs, and of course, Zimmerman popped foul to the catcher to end the inning.
Headed to the bottom of the third, still scoreless.
Fairfax, Va.: Patterson has some nerve irritation? Sounds like he must have been watching the games along with the fans!
Barry Svrluga: Well put.
Holy smokes!: Guzman walks! Guzman walks! Guzman walks!
Barry Svrluga: The world takes note.
Fairfax, Va.: Remind me how options work, please. Can Casto be sent down as many times as needed on one option this year, or does each one count against the total allowed before waivers?
Barry Svrluga: A good point: Options are good for the whole season. You have three option years (in some cases four, but that's very complicated), and you can be sent up and down as many times in one of those years as you want. There's limits on how long you must be down before you can be recalled, etc.
So in answer to your specific question: Yes, Casto could be on that shuttle to Columbus tons of times this season.
Capitol Hill: While I certainly feel for Chad Cordero, I assume his absence to attend to his grandmother will open the door for Rauch to pick up a few saves (assuming the Nats take a lead or two into the ninth inning). Any chance that Rauch could perform so well that he takes over the closer spot, or will Cordero hold onto that role no matter what Rauch does in his absence? Thanks!
Barry Svrluga: The biggest issue is having those leads and giving Rauch a chance. But either way, I think Cordero will return to that role. If the Nationals went out and signed a veteran gas-balling closer like Billy Wagner, that's when Cordero would be a setup guy here. But I think, for now, he's the closer, for better or for worse.
Washington, D.C.: Barry, do the Nationals have a game plan for scoring runs? Or does each player go up hacking and hope for the best?
They appear to lack a consistent approach to producing offense. Where is the sense of a team identity? Does Acta have a vision for how each spot in the lineup can contribute to a win?
Barry Svrluga: Yes, Acta does have such a vision. The problem: Does he have players who can pull it off? Not right now he doesn't, at least not on a consistent basis.
Think of this one thing: If Nick Johnson were in the middle of the lineup, things could be different. They wouldn't be explosive, but they'd have a No. 4 hitter who would get on base 40 percent of the time, work pitchers over and over, and be a tough out with runners on base. His presence would allow Church to move back to sixth, give a right-left-right-left flow from third through sixth in the order, and generally give the team more of a chance to string base runners together. His presence would change the whole lineup.
Gaithersburg, Md.: Was there any team reaction to the recent slam against the team in the Post's Style section? The article didn't seem particularly fair to me, almost like the author was hoping for bad things to happen to the team.
Barry Svrluga: Nah, there wasn't much reaction. These guys read the sports section some, and I'll hear from some of them if they don't like what I wrote, but we're on the road and the Post isn't in the clubhouse like it is at home.
RE: Nerve Damage: Why is everyone so negative........WE HAVE A TEAM AND OWNERS!!!
Barry Svrluga: There are still people, apparently, who are just happy to have baseball back.
I think one of the interesting storylines of this season -- and one I'll be touching on in the near future -- is whether the players are able to understand the plan for the future. They're the ones who have to go through this tough time. As Kasten told me a couple weeks ago, "It's easier for me, because I've been through it before." He's also not the one on SportsCenter on the wrong end of another loss.
Rockville, Md.: What is a typical day on the road like for you?
Barry Svrluga: Thanks for caring, Rockville.
Since I get back to the hotel from the park around midnight or 12:30 a.m. after a night game, I usually enjoy a beverage (not obtained in Nats clubhouse) or two while trying to catch "Baseball Tonight" (and I'm always really upset if I missed it and I have to watch that ridiculous NFL show in the middle of spring).
Get up, check the Internet for Nationals stories, write an entry for Nationals Journal, make sure I locate the nearest Starbucks, check the Nats minor league box scores, check in with faithful colleague Dave Sheinin for his thoughts on what's going on, buy the local newspaper to check out their baseball coverage, maybe sneak in a workout (need to do this more) and head to the ballpark between 2-2:30 p.m. for a night game. Clubhouse opens at 3:30 p.m., get in there to talk to guys, meet with Manny Acta at 4 p.m., talk to more guys, head out for batting practice, chit-chat with guys, head up to the press box to write my notebook and transcribe interviews, wolf down a meal, cover the game, file one story as soon as the game ends, head down to the clubhouse and talk to guys and Acta again, come back up and rewrite game story, sometimes rewrite notebook, then tape the podcast and send that in.
Williamsburg, Va.: The Nationals have Darnell McDonald in AAA Columbus just waiting to deliver for the big league club. He was just named IL Player of the week and is batting .327 with 19 RBIs and 6 SBs, not to mention a .407 on-base percentage. Why isn't he up yet?
Barry Svrluga: Don't need an outfielder right now, unfortunately. But he's someone to keep an eye on, no doubt.
15th and L NW: Barry - What I don't get is that there are a lot of teams that have been trying to rebuild for years, heck the Brewers have been rebuilding for 20 years! KC, TB, Pittsburgh and others over extended, Baltimore for 10 now...if it was so easy it would be done by everyone, right?
Barry Svrluga: No question. That's why I think the Nationals' boldness about how their plan will be successful is interesting. They're setting high standards for themselves -- certainly not this year, but in the not-too distant future. This stuff is fickle. Not only do you have to draft, develop and trade well, but you have to avoid injuries, etc. There's a lot that goes into this, some under the team's control, some not.
Prince William Co., Va.: These are the times that try fans' souls. Here's how bad things are: When I told my 86-year-old mother, who watches the Nats faithfully on TV each night, that today was an afternoon game, she said she didn't feel like watching. Even she's given up. Earlier, my goal for this team was 63 wins; now I'd be happy with 57, just so they don't sink to or go below the 56-106 of the '63 Senators, the worst baseball team to play at D.C./RFK. (And two years ago, who would have thought we'd be talking about this?) It's bleak.
My question concerns the upcoming draft, which is so important to this franchise's future. How much say will Jim Bowden have in making the selections? (Given his track record with developing pitching, many of us hope the answer is "none.") And how deep is the talent pool deemed this year?
Barry Svrluga: The Nationals scouts believe this is a deep draft, which is important because the club has five of the first 71 picks. They can't miss on the No. 6 pick, but they also have to get good players later in the draft, as I mentioned before.
Bowden will certainly have say. He spent last weekend scouting for the draft. But in talking with vice president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo last weekend in Chicago, it's a collaborative effort, too. The scouts will get in a room and start arguing about players. They'll ask for all the information and evaluations and opinions and data on guys, and there will be some fights. Will the draft have Jim Bowden's stamp on it? Absolutely. Will it only be Jim Bowden's draft? No.
Barry Svrluga: Folks, we're in the bottom of the fourth, and it's still scoreless. There's more questions here, and I'd love to get to them, but I've got to get to work if I'm going to know anything about this game -- and if I'm going to catch my flight back to D.C.
Thanks so much for checking in. Perhaps when I talk to you next week, we'll have a couple of wins to discuss. Who knows? Crazier things have happened.
Also: Please check out Nationals Journal, which is updated every day, as well as our podcasts, which are still developing but provide some good interviews with players, etc.
Have a great week.
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