Wednesday, May 16, 1 p.m. ET

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Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 16, 2007; 1:00 PM

With a new season underway, Washington Post staff writer Barry Svrluga was online Wednesday, May 16, 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 washingtonpost.com. He's also the author of "National Pastime: Sports, Politics, and the Return of Baseball to Washington, D.C."

Full Coverage: Washington Nationals

Discussion Archive

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Barry Svrluga: Hey folks. Thanks for joining us.

First, some news (already available on Nationals Journal): Right-hander Jerome Williams is back on the 15-day disabled list, and lefty Billy Traber was called up from Class AAA Columbus. Traber has a 2.60 ERA at Columbus in 10 appearances, only two of them starts. He'll take Williams's spot in the rotation on Sunday against Baltimore.

With that -- and with the third of four games against the Braves on tap tonight at RFK Stadium -- let's chat.

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Washington, D.C.: Barry - Any thoughts of going to a four man rotation? I mean that's what some of us grew up on? Why do we "NEED" a five man rotation? Seems like pitchers today are not strong enough.

Barry Svrluga: Alas, old-timers frequently point to the fact that they threw every day as evidence that arm strength and constant throwing prevents, not causes, injury. The problem: That would require an industry-wide overhaul in thinking at this point. With all the player movement, guys could be shifting from organization to organization with different philosophies, and that could take a different kind of toll on their arms.

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Alexandria, Va.: Barry, can you do us a favor and invite Mike Wise to a game with you - his article. today is a really shallow and unsophisticated look at the Nats. I'd expect more from a pro sports writer.

Yes, the Nats are building around Ryan Zimmerman. But with long term commitments to Schnieder, Kearns and Nick Johnson, he's not the only piece in place. I'd add Felipe Lopez, Ryan Church and Chad Cordero to that list as well.

Barry Svrluga: I talked with Wise before he went out there yesterday, and I thought he did a nice job of capturing some of the team's goals. I think what I was trying to tell him, and I think part of what he wrote, is in addition to Zimmerman as a potential -- read: potential -- star, you want to find other pieces this year that you didn't expect to have. They know they have Kearns, at least, and likely Lopez, and possibly Cordero if he gets himself together and isn't traded. We know that part. What we didn't know at the beginning of the year is that Jason Bergmann could -- COULD -- be a useful piece, too.

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Washington, D.C.: What's happened to Nook Logan? Has there been some sort of falling out or is Langerhans seen as a better player?

Barry Svrluga: Logan has a shoulder injury that prevents him from hitting from the left side of the plate. Langerhans is a very good defensive player who happens to be a left-handed hitter. So for now, at least, Langerhans will face right-handers, Logan lefties.

But I thought something Manny Acta said last week was telling. He said, basically, that when they committed to Logan as the center fielder over the weekend, "we didn't have Langerhans here." Translation: If Langerhans produces, he'll play -- regardless of who's pitching.

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Center Field: Word game -- Please describe why Nook Logan is on our team without using any of the following words: speed/run, bunt, center, triple. I can't do it so I figured maybe you could.

Good luck.

Barry Svrluga: Um, defense? Range? Gallop? On his horse? Diving catch?

I'm trying. I really am.

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Arlington, Va.: My advice to your letter writer to The Post and other fans is to not buy tickets in advance and pay the crazy fees. Just show up on game day, buy a $5 outfield seat, and then sit where you want -- there's always lots of open box seats every game I've been to this year.

Barry Svrluga: The letter was interesting, and I just heard Kornheiser reading it on his radio show. Basically, Joseph C. Anselmo of Washington -- in a letter the editors titled "A High Price to Pay for Lousy Baseball" -- said he wanted nine tickets to a "premium" game against the Indians. The premium games are $5 more. Buying on-line, he faced a $4.50-per ticket surcharge, adding up to $40.50 for his group. To print the tickets at home cost another $1.75.

I don't know if any of you heard Tony's rant, but his take was that Ted Lerner should have picked up the paper, read that, and made a couple calls saying, "Stop that right now!" But I think Arlington's advice is pretty good, too.

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Value of a Manager: Barry,

A chatter on another baseball chat (Boz's chat) opined that coaching or managing at the MLB level had little impact on the outcome of a game. He/she justified their position on the claim that baseball was an individual sport, in essence. Boz was ambivalent saying he thought there were a few, very few, managers that made a significant difference for their team over the long haul. I believe one of them was Earl Weaver. I disagree. I think a MLB manager can have a huge impact on the outcome of many games based on the decisions he makes. What think ye?

Barry Svrluga: I agree in that it's not like in football, where a coaching staff installs a completely different offense from a division rival, etc. But I also think you're right: On a given night, a manager can have a huge impact. But what does that bring for the good ones? Do strategic moves mean 10 extra wins a year? I don't think so.

I think, in covering this sport for a few years, that one of the most significant contributions a baseball manager makes is keeping things together in the clubhouse and the dugout, putting out small fires before they become large ones, setting a tone, massaging (or not massaging) egos, etc. It's a grind, it really is, and the best managers figure out how to manage personalities and lead men.

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Guuzmaan, Netherlands: The FO talked a lot about trading Young, Belliard, and King, to name three sort of marketable veterans. But wouldn't guys like Felipe Lopez and Austin Kearns bring more in return? They're younger and not yet eligible for free agency. Kearns is locked up in a pretty reasonable deal, and say what you will about Lopez's defense but at least he's able to play both 2B and SS. Should the team being looking to market these guys if they want to bring in decent prospects? (Mike Stanton for Shairon Martis doesn't happen every day.)

Barry Svrluga: I think either of those players would be attractive to other teams in the right situation, but I think the Nationals consider them pieces of the immediate future. In the right situation -- read: if he stays at second base -- Lopez could be a very valuable player. Keep in mind that when/if the Nationals' roster improves, they can put players in positions in which they can succeed. Lopez isn't a leadoff hitter, he just happens to be hitting first on this team. Imagine him hitting seventh or eighth -- or, if he improves all-around, second. Ditto Kearns. I've talked to several people recently who agree: When Kearns is hitting sixth, you'll know this team's lineup is better.

I expect these guys to be around a bit.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Regarding the rotation, such as it is, a suggestion was made (not in this family newspaper) that Michael Hinckley be brought up from AA Harrisburg for a turn.

Can't say that I agree. Triple-A ball exists so you don't have to torch your AA guys, especially in the context of The Plan. And besides I don't think Hinckley's quite ready. Is that the front office's thinking as well?

Barry Svrluga: I wrote a sentence about Hinckley in my (far-too) brief minor league notebook in this morning's paper, but after starting 4-1 for Class AA Harrisburg, he dropped his last two starts and gave up 11 runs in 9-1/3 innings. Manny Acta touched on this with both Collin Balester -- Baseball America's top prospect in the Nats' organization -- and Hinckley: They're not coming up in a stop-gap situation. "They're the future here," Acta said. Now, that doesn't mean Balester might not be up in September, but it would be for more than one or two starts.

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Section 106: Kearns has missed several balls in RF this year but nobody seems to notice. I had a close view last night of two balls that fell between him and Lopez that should've been caught by Kearns -- they landed very close to him and he was casually jogging in on both. He made a nice running play on the same ball later in the game. Is his mind wandering out in RF or what? Along the same lines, what sort of cruel joke is Acta playing on fans putting Belliard at first? He is comically bad.

Barry Svrluga: I have actually liked Kearns in right field the more I watch him. (Full disclosure: I was off last night and did not see the plays you mention.) I also think he plays hard. He has an excellent and accurate arm, too.

That said, could he be subconsciously gun-shy because of his own injury history and his collision with Nick Johnson last year? Sure.

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Stafford, Va/: I think the letter write and Kornheiser will find that the surcharge fees for tickets and the print fees are fixed by tickets.com and not the Nats, who probably have little or no control over them. Blame MLB, they set up the contract with tickets.com.

Barry Svrluga: I believe that's probably correct. Still, the Nationals need to figure out how to get MORE people to come to their games, not less, and everything that happens -- even if it's because of a third party (Aramark, FedEx, etc.) -- reflects back on them. They didn't come here saying, "We'll provide first-rate customer service -- as long as all of our business partners work really well together." They came here saying, "We'll provide first-rate customer service -- period."

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Bethesda, Md.: Post-game buffet question -- if a player needs a cup to fill up with water, how much does Lerner charge for the cup?

Barry Svrluga: $1.50?

(Cheap shot, Bethesda.)

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Sit where you want?: Haven't been to a game yet this year, but went to 20-plus last year, usually in the 500s. Most ushers were not very accommodating about fans "movin' on down," even late in the game when the stands had cleared out. I always thought it was very ungenerous, especially since my kid likes to stay until the very last at-bat.

Barry Svrluga: I've actually heard decent stories about this lately, and I myself have moved from my seats in Section 309 (yes, I'm a sicko, and sometimes go on my off days, but that's another matter) down to the 200-level seats and even below. During the double rain delay the other night -- when Zimmerman hit the walk-off grand slam -- the 75 or so fans all sat behind the dugout and the plate and were given free sodas and popcorn and stuff, I believe.

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day game duty: So, after working on my two scheduled days off the past month, my boss MADE me take this Thursday off. Nice of him - perfect timing for the day game -- except now I just had a mandatory meeting scheduled that will bring me in until 1:30...

Q for you and the crowd: Do you think there will still be a game for a 2:15 arrival with Chico on the hill?

Q for me: Does it matter? What better way of saying "Day off on a work day than with a beer at the ballpark?"

Barry Svrluga: Q for me: Yeah, I'm guessing so.

Q for you: You would seriously think of staying at work when you could go to the game?

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Washington, D.C.: Re: Service fees. My spouse and I, like everyone else, despise the service and inconvenience fees. In the past, we tried to do the "walk up" method for all the games (except the two Sunday games of the Orioles and Yankees series). That works well for two people but getting nice seats all together can be harder (although I think one can get better when they go to the ticket window).

Anyhow, we opted for a partial plan this year. Yes, it means that we had to commit to 20 games (fine by us!), but we are able to swap games around (with some small restrictions) and the best part -- ZERO FEES. We figure even if we end up missing a game, we have still saved in the long run between the $1 discount per ticket and lack of service fee. (Having the same seat at 20 games and making friends with the other season ticket holders is really nice too).

Barry Svrluga: Good advice.

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To Alexandria Mike Wise-basher: Not that Mike needs me to come to his defense, but I enjoyed his piece today. The New York dailies typical run baseball columns every day in addition to game stories, and I hope we get to that point here with guys like Boz and Mike partnered with your fine writing Barry.

Barry Svrluga: Thank you. Boz can't be contained. The other night, when Bergmann was in the midst of his possible no-hitter, he had climbed in his car in Annapolis and headed to the park in case it happened, ready to write. He's the most eloquent baseball columnist in the country, in my mind, and we're fortunate to have him.

The other columnists obviously have their specialties. Wise has covered the NBA for years and feels really comfortable there. I think what we'll see, as the Nationals develop, is a growing interest among our columnists in baseball and the team. When/if they get to the point where they're more relevant, you'll hear from more voices than just me, Boz and Sheinin.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Barry,

Thank you for your informed and fair coverage of the Nats.

This is a loaded question!

Pitching: What is going on with the starting pitchers? Are they too scared to be sent to the minors and are therefore playing hurt without mentioning "minor" injuries to the trainers? And if so, who do they think is going to replace them?

Hitting: On paper, the Nats have a pretty good line-up that should produce more than a paltry 2 to 3 runs per game. Is the absence of the hitting coach affecting the players, or was this hitting coach ineffective due to personal problems earlier in the season -- including spring training?

Thanks for answering.

Barry Svrluga: Thank you, Silver Spring.

Pitching: Patterson and Hill both have a history of injuries, so you have to put expectations on them cautiously. Williams said he has never felt anything like this, so who knows what it is? His previous trip to the DL was for a sprained ankle, so that's no mystery. Ryan Wagner (shoulder) is also a concern.

Hitting: Put Nick Johnson back in there, and the lineup looks different: Lopez, Guzman, Zimmerman, Johnson, Kearns, Church, Schneider, Langerhans. Just has a different feel. I really don't think Mitchell Page's presence or absence had much impact yet, because he was just starting to tinker with guys as they worked their way past the 100-125 at-bat mark.

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McLean, Va.: Barry, with interleague play just around the corner how bad do you expect the Nats record to be after facing the best of the AL Central (Tigers, Indians, Twins) plus the AL East teams (Orioles, Blue Jays) that are completely capable of beating the snot out of a team already in shambles? I'd be interested in your Interleague Record prediction.

Love the Nats coverage, keep up the good work!

Barry Svrluga: Indeed, the AL Central is a tough draw this year, and it'd be tough to imagine the Nationals going better than 3-6 against the Tigers, Indians and Twins (though two of those series are at home). The O's and Jays? They both seem beatable, don't they? The Blue Jays are perhaps the most injured team in baseball, in complete shambles.

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Moving Down to the Good Seats: During the rain delay in that recent marathon game, the ushers actually told my sister and her friend that the game had been canceled, then ushered them out of the park. I don't think she received any free sodas or popcorn. She DID however receive an e-mail apology when she complained to the Nats FO, after she returned home and I broke the news to her that the game did proceed....and the Nats won it in the bottom ninth!

Barry Svrluga: Wow, that's really too bad. Was there a pair of tickets with that e-mail apology?

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Woodbridge, Va.: I realize you were probably half tongue-in-cheek when you mentioned Sir Sidney at your blog, and I realize His Sidness is 99% done as a competent pitcher, but it's not totally crazy. Ponson's problem has never really been health, unlike most of our guys on the roster right now. One thing I fear is that we'll end up losing someone semi-useful in endless roster moves trying to patch the injuries. And Jim Bowden has demonstrated with Vargas and Rasner he can lose semi-useful guys even when he's not trying to patch injuries. At least with Ponson you can plunk him down and let him succeed or fail (probably the latter) without needing to juggle the 40-man roster when you put him on the DL. Thoughts?

Barry Svrluga: I think it'd take a serious crisis -- and I suppose we're approaching that level -- to bring in a guy like that. Since every move the club makes this year is about the future, the only reason to bring in a guy like Ponson would be to make sure no one in the minors was rushed to the majors. With Traber's call-up, that's not necessary. He's been here before, and isn't being rushed. He's not thought of as a key, developing piece, so you just throw him in there.

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Arlington, Va.: I noticed that Cordero pitched the eighth last night. Do you think it might be better for the team if Chad becomes the eighth-inning pitcher with Rauch as the closer until Cordero gets his head together? The last two Cordero blown saves were painful to watch.

Barry Svrluga: That's exactly what Acta was doing. Since Cordero left the team to tend to his late grandmother, Acta said he would ease him back in. But he also said he would only need "a couple of games" to work in the middle before he'd reassume the closer's role. So I would think he'd have one more outing in a non-save situation, then get back on the horse.

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Falls Church, Va.: So can the Nats maintain their current level of performance long enough to make a serious run at finishing over .333?

Barry Svrluga: A .333 winning percentage translates to 54-108, which is really bad, but isn't historically bad. I had 62-100 at the beginning of the year, but what do I know? The impact of the injuries to Johnson, Hill and Patterson, especially, will be felt not only on a nightly basis, but on the overall record as well. Hill needs to get back by his mid-June "at the latest" target, and he needs to be healthy once he's back. I've really been impressed with him and his sinker. But he's got to prove he can make 25 starts or so to be truly considered part of the future.

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Vienna, Va.: Barry:

I believe you were the one who wrote the "notes" item on Brandon Harris, in which he said he was glad to be out of Washington. Was he happy because he wasn't getting playing time here or did he have bigger issues?

Barry Svrluga: Actually, Sheinin wrote that on his Sunday baseball page. Harris went 4 for 5 and had the game-winning (groundball) single in the 10th inning last night for Tampa Bay, lifting his address to .340. Harris was frustrated by what he felt was a lack of opportunity in Washington. He wasn't Bowden's guy, and the Nationals were just fine with trading him in the Kearns-Lopez deal. Cincy didn't have room for him either. But I think this is typical of what happens when a guy succeeds after finally getting an opportunity -- he says, "I told you so."

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Short Hills, N.J.: Who are some of your other favorite current sports writers?

Barry Svrluga: Ah, an interesting question. I'm not just saying this to say it because I share the press box with these guys, but man, Boz and Sheinin are a tandem to reckon with on baseball. I've often said that if I could take one person to write the game story off the seventh game of the World Series, and another to write the column, they're the guys I work with every day. Sheinin's profile of Josh Hamilton earlier this year shows how he can bring it on a longer story, too.

Others: I grew up reading The Boston Globe guys, Bob Ryan and Dan Shaughnessy in particular. I have a soft spot for them. I used to love Rick Reilly before he started writing the SI column, back when he covered golf. Ever read his account of Greg Norman's collapse at the Masters? Money. Absolute money.

Who else? Sally Jenkins, of course, and the old version of Steve Rushin. Lee Jenkins of the New York Times comes up with some of the most amazing ideas I've ever seen. I'm leaving a million out that I'll remember when the chat's over.

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Rutgers, NJ: Is Bergmann for real, or is he having a hot streak like Ramon Ortiz did last year?

Barry Svrluga: Bergmann isn't Ortiz. (Did you see his line last night? 1 IP, 7 H, 6 ER, 1 BB, 0 K to bring his ERA to 4.89.) Bergmann is younger, and Ortiz never had seven starts like this.

I don't know if this is the Jason Bergmann we'll see through September, but he has way, way more potential to duplicate this than Ortiz did.

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Herndon, Va.: My fear is that the rebuilding will not bear fruit. I mean, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, and Pittsburgh have been trying for years. If it was a sure thing, they'd have it figured out. What gives of confidence since Stan flopped with the Atlanta Hawks before finding three HOF pitchers?

Barry Svrluga: Valid points, all, and I said to Kasten last week that if duplicating the Atlanta model was so easy, how come not everyone does it? He says it's a fair point, but seems to believe that hiring the best people and maintaining discipline and focus will, in fact, bear fruit. Have the Pirates and Royals been able to pay for the best talent in scouting and player development? No. They're small market teams that have to pinch pennies everywhere. Even with all the bill-watching going on with the Nationals, they have paid well for their scouts and player development people. Now, those people have to do their jobs.

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Richmond, Va.: Not sure I understand why Broadway is still in Columbus. It's not like Fick gives us the power that everyone says Broadway lacks. If Young is hurt, why not bring up Broadway and see what he can do?

Also, what was the deal with Smoltz being a doofus the other night? Did he ever apologize for showing up Kearns like that?

Barry Svrluga: Broadway is on the disabled list in Columbus and was hitting roughly .200 before he went on it. It's swiftly becoming a lost year for Larry, and it'll likely be his last year in the organization if it continues this way.

Smoltz: Kearns told me he sent word through some Braves people that he watched the tape and realized Kearns wasn't trying to do anything.

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DC: Chad's "late grandmother?" Did she die? Oh dear.

Barry Svrluga: Indeed, she did. It was expected. She died late last Thursday night West Coast time. But Cordero appears at peace with it. It's one of those things that is easier when it's over, he said.

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Bergmann: Do writers in the press box talk about/get excited about possible no-hitters? If so, do you have to wait for the sixth inning to shush yourselves? I can't believe I'm saying this but fans have been spoiled a few times in the last two weeks with I think three Nats pitchers taking no-no's into the fifth. Not to mention Hudson had one into the sixth last night.

Barry Svrluga: Excited? Sure, that's one way to describe it. Freaking out is another way to describe it. It's an amazing adrenaline rush to realize you could be going from covering a game that very few people care about to covering something that everyone will be talking about the next day. And you have to instantly get in "A-game" mindset, not that you don't try to think that way every night, but let's be realistic.

So yeah, it was a rush -- scrambling to look up records of last Washington no-hitter (1931), putting Bergmann's career in perspective, figuring out exactly who to talk to to get insight. Tons o' fun.

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Olney, Md.: Hi, Barry -- great coverage of the Nats; enjoy the chats very much.

I assumed, before the season started, we might have 8-10 starting pitchers averaging 15 starts each in 2007. If we're now looking at 12-14 starters averaging 13 starts each, who are some of the other pitchers in the system (Hanrahan, O'Connor, etc.) that we might expect to see before the end of the season?

Also, if you have injury updates on O'Connor and Ayala, that would be helpful too. Thanks.

Barry Svrluga: Good points. Joel Hanrahan would be here already (1-1, 1.69 ERA for Columbus) but he has a groin injury. Mike O'Connor is still recovering from elbow surgery, but Bowden said he'll be pitching somewhere (read: minors) by mid-June at the latest. Ayala: The key is to make sure the guy can pitch on back-to-back or even three consecutive days. His velocity's coming around.

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Federal Triangle: The AA to majors jump is done all the time for good, hot pitchers. Litsch last night, for example. The big downside for rushing Hincklay and Ballester is starting their arbitration clocks. Too soon for The Plan.

Barry Svrluga: That is another factor, no question. Oh, another one to watch: Garrett Mock, the pitcher acquired along with Chico in the Livan Hernandez trade, made his first start for Class A Potomac last night, throwing six shutout innings in which he allowed three hits. Mock, who was slowed by knee surgery, is supposed to start at Potomac, regain his confidence and form, and then move to Harrisburg. This guy's got a Clemens-like body. He could be another guy who surfaces by September, no question.

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D.C.: Wow, an answer from the Nats FO?

I sent e-mail several weeks ago with a few questions and comments. I never got a reply, and got (without having given permission) subscribed to their buy-stuff-from-us e-mail list. I am a ticket plan holder, so in my mind sending me the buy-tickets-now e-mail is kinda pointless, but a reply to my question would sure be nice.

Barry Svrluga: Stan? Stan? You out there?

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22046: Barry - what can you tell us about the status of Mitchell Page?

Barry Svrluga: I have not talked to Page since he took his leave (I was off when it happened), but intend to do so soon. I am told he's not expected back soon. He told mlb.com that he is having a health issue. I am told by other people that he has, in fact, had a relapse of his alcoholism.

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Washington, D.C.: Isn't AA ball where the true prospects hang out with AAA being mainly journeymen and once-prospects that are shuffled back and forth? Obviously, young legit prospects obviously have played and do play at AAA, but isn't AA where it's at for a farm system these days?

Barry Svrluga: Yes, you're generally correct. Class AAA has really become where you go to get a temporary fill-in, with the real prospects' league being, at least out here, the Class AA Eastern League.

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Sect. 418 Jr: Barry,

If it wasn't for bad luck would the Nats have no luck at all? This weekend gave us a glimpse of what the Nats could be when bats hit balls and pitchers throw strikes. With every pitcher getting hurt is there any chance they can keep playing well? More importantly have you seen any signs of the loosing/injuries effect moral in the clubhouse? Is Zimm going to have to step up and pitch to get this team to win?

Barry Svrluga: I have said this before, and it's hard for me to believe, but I think it's true: The attitude in the clubhouse seems to me to be quite good. Now, you would wonder about a team that was consistently upbeat in the midst of eight-game losing streaks, but these guys seem to be focused. When the hitters were flailing away last week, they were very upset that they weren't coming through for the pitchers, who were performing well above expectations.

I think this is a 100-loss team. What does that mean? It means you'll see some periods like this, where four wins in five games are possible. But there'll also be a lot of five losses in six games.

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Burke Lake, Va.: Is this season easier or harder to cover than 2005 was? Is it more or less fun?

Barry Svrluga: A very interesting question. My philosophy is this: I hope that every day I go to the park, something interesting happens. Could be news, injury, a near no-hitter, a game-ending grand slam, a game that starts at 11:30 p.m., a toe-to-toe fight between two managers, a player calling his former manager "a piece of garbage," a guy stealing his 40th base to become a 40-40 guy, a rookie to beat the Yankees with a walk-off homer, a closer to blow a save, a starter to get his first win.

I don't think 2005 can be duplicated, because everything that happened that year was a first in the reincarnation of baseball in D.C. Plus, as 81-81 seasons go, it doesn't get much more interesting than a 50-31 first half and a 31-50 second half.

This year is also interesting because of the adjustment of the new owners and the constant monitoring of the front office's plan. What pieces do they discover along the way? Are things ahead of or behind schedule?

I think they're different entities. But thanks for getting me thinking.

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G-town: Barry, any scoop on who we're going after for the No. 6 pick in the draft?

Barry Svrluga: I'll be gathering more information on this over the next couple weeks. It's a big draft for the Nationals. GM Jim Bowden will absolutely have scouted the player they take sixth. I think there will be some internal debate as to whether to take a college pitcher (N.C. State's Andrew Brackman, if he's still there) or a high school hitter (Mike Moustakas from California, perhaps). But I'll hone in on this in the next couple weeks.

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Barry Svrluga: I feel like this has been a slow chat, so I'll answer a couple in overtime here, in honor of the NHL playoffs.

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Arlington, Va.: So far I am willing to believe Manny Acta is going a good job. But he started the year saying he wouldn't make the same old traditional decisions, like giving up runs with constant sacrifice bunts. Yet I don't recall a single situation this year where Acta has done anything but bunt in sac situations, and nearly every time -- the failed bunt that caught Kearns and hurt John Smoltz being the most recent -- the Nats fail to execute. Was the talk about not wasting outs on sac bunts just talk?

Barry Svrluga: I think almost all of Acta's bunt attempts have been by the pitcher or in a late-inning situation to get an insurance run. That was the situation the other night -- tough pitcher in Smoltz, and a game in which a 3-0 lead seems a whole lot bigger than 2-0.

It's interesting, though. One of the writers early in the year took a Ronnie Belliard bunt attempt in like the second inning to be a play Acta put on, and Acta was very very clear the next day. "I don't bunt in the second inning!" he said. Belliard had done it on his own. So there are cases when the players do things the manager wouldn't think of.

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Temple Hills, Md.: Please tell us how John Patterson's arm is coming along. Have the nerve tests he was supposed to have shown what is wrong with it? Is it part of the same problem he had last year that was supposed to have been corrected by the surgery in July? Any idea when we can expect him back? The Nationals need him healthy!

Barry Svrluga: I simply won't make predictions on Patterson. He's had so many issues over the years, and the recent ones have seemed mysterious. But you're right about this: The Nationals need him healthy. Before Bergmann struck out 10 the other night, the last National with 10 strikeouts in a game was Patterson last April in Florida, when he struck out 13. He can be really, really good. But he needs to pitch.

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Barry Svrluga: Okay, folks, more questions than time. Thanks again for stopping by. I'm off tonight, but back for tomorrow's Braves finale as well as for the entire weekend series against the Orioles. See you at the park!

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