Wednesday, Sept. 5, 1 p.m. ET
The Washington Nationals
Wednesday, September 5, 2007; 1:00 PM
Washington Post staff writer Barry Svrluga was online Wednesday, Sept. 5, 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, folks. A pretty interesting win from a pretty interesting character -- rookie Jesus Flores -- last night. Lots to discuss today with less than four weeks left in the schedule. Can they finish out of last place? Can they finish with a better record than 71-91? And does that tiny crowd from last night -- 15,611, lowest since baseball returned to Washington -- mean anything as we head toward the new park next season?
Let's get to chatting.
DC: I'm trying to get a grasp on what the rotation will look like next season. Just seems like there are 8-9 guys vying for 5 positions.
Barry Svrluga: This is an excellent, hard-to-figure out point. But I think you're right. Here's the list I think will contend:
Shawn Hill, Jason Bergmann, Matt Chico, John Lannan, Tim Redding, Joel Hanrahan, perhaps even a Ross Detwiler (likely starting at Class AA) and Collin Balester (likely starting at Class AAA). Throw in some yet-to-be-signed six-year minor-league free agents, and that's probably it. Bowden said the other day that given the sorry state of the free agent pitching market at the major league level -- Kyle Lohse, anyone? -- they're not likely to dive in there.
14th and L: Barry-
Any update on the Player to be Named that we will receive from the Ray King swap? I saw a report in the Milwaukee paper that said the player has been agreed upon.
Barry Svrluga: Not yet. Bowden was in an, um, interesting mood yesterday when he was asked about that, and I basically was told it was a stupid question. I'll plow into it more today.
D.C.: Do you know how many season tickets have been sold so far for the first year in the new stadium? And are the premium seats selling? It seems to me that anyone who is willing to pay $300-500 per ticket is already in a suite.
Barry Svrluga: I plan to do an update on this very soon, though I suspect Stan Kasten will not be giving specific numbers yet. Every time I've asked, he says things like "very well" or "briskly" in regards to sales, but I have my suspicions. I promise to update around the end of the season.
A very important matter concerning Nats future : Hi Barry,
I have heard rumors (some on NatsJournal) Screech was going to be replaced before next season with Uncle Slam from Potomac; any truth to this?
I think a great replacement mascot would be a Giant Panda. Kids love them; they are always the talk of Washington in the spring (think Tai Shan)
Barry Svrluga: I do know that there are some fans who would like to see that happen, but I think the reality is that Screech is a big hit with young kids. Young kids, apparently, love pelvis-thrusting chickens. Go figure.
I would expect Uncle Slam to make his usual number of appearances.
Haverford, PA: Is there more to the Felipe Lopez media embargo, or is this just petulance and frustration stemming from a disappointing season?
Barry Svrluga: Bill Ladson at mlb.com wrote a couple grafs on this in his notebook this morning. I had planned to write my game story about Lopez, but other things took over.
Lopez is clearly frustrated by his season, and I've never had a particularly tight relationship with him. When he had the poor defensive series in L.A. last week, a group of us were quizzing him on why he was struggling, and he abruptly ended the interview.
When something like this happens, it's always worth trying to talk to the guy after they do something good. So when Lopez preceded Zimmerman's game-winning single the other day by ripping a double, I waited to talk to Zimmerman -- who had a huge media throng around him -- to specifically wait out Lopez and ask him about the double, etc. He told me to wait at his locker, that he'd be back -- and then he left the stadium.
Not sure exactly what's going on, but I do know that there are some people within the organization who are frustrated by what they see as inconsistent effort. He gets credit for not publicly complaining about all the position switching he's done this year, but that doesn't mean he busts it every night. It's an interesting situation, and one about which I'll write more soon.
E6 for the Nats Dramatic Win: First off, thanks for all your excellent coverage. I think you can take singular credit for transforming me from a big Nats fan into an educated, baseball-obsessed freak.
I just wanted to take this opportunity to point out that our Nats are at 62 wins. So unless they go 0-23 for the rest of the season (-knock wood-), your prediction for the season record is (happily!) wrong. How do you and other season prognosticators come up with these predictions, anyway, and how often are they on target?
Barry Svrluga: Wow. Not interested in creating freaks. Have already done that to myself, and I don't recommend it.
And yes, I was talking with Nick Johnson and Brian Schneider about my preseason projection yesterday. That would be 62-100. Not about to come true.
Can they reach 71-91, last year's mark? It's a decent bet.
Section 213, Row 12: Is this what it has come to? Nats have exciting walk-off victory, and the WaPo cannot find space on the first page of the sports section?
Barry Svrluga: Yeah, it's not my favorite result, but as someone who spent a long time covering college sports -- football among them -- I know that September is a huge time on the sports calendar. (I have to admit, I didn't know it coincided with the rugby World Cup, even though my brother (much to my mother's horror) played rugby in college, but whatever.)
You have a good story -- an exclusive story -- on the NFL players' union. You have your US Open heading to the final weekend. You have your mega-college football game this weekend, which has a ton of good college games. And you've got Mike Wise on Clinton Portis.
Nats spent the better part of five months on the cover of the section. I suspect I'll be scratching and clawing to get there on most days now -- but I'll keep trying.
The Pug: How's Flores? Still rinsing shaving cream out of his eyes?
Kudos to Schneider and Zimm for that!
Barry Svrluga: Oh, man. I missed that. Did they nail him in the MASN interview? Good for them.
Silver Spring, Maryland: Barry,
Outside of your splendid coverage of the Nationals the Washington Post seems to ignore the fact that we have a team for the Washington area. For instance, today, Sep 5, there is not ONE article on the front page about the Nats - even after a 4 game winning streak. Surely the Nats deserve more coverage than any two of the articles there. Sometimes I think the Post actually prefers the Orioles over the Nats. Go to Page 6!
You do a super job. First thing I look for every day. Thanks!
Barry Svrluga: Ah, the perfect mix of "praise the beat writer, kill the paper."
We haven't staffed an Orioles game since the end of July, so I think it's pretty hard to say that we give the same amount of coverage to the Baltimore team.
Insert Whiner's Location Here: whine whine whine ... the Post hates the Nationals ... whine whine whine ... Barry shouldn't write about the attendance ... whine whine whine ... don't cover the Orioles ....whine whine whine
Good. All of the annoying complaining is over
Barry Svrluga: Nicely summed up, I suppose.
Fredericksburg, VA: In recent chats, you've said to keep an eye out for news on the Nats setup in Asia. Do you expect something more in regards to veteran Japanese players or young prospects(International free agents) from places like China?
They seem to have a tremendous setup in the Dominican. I'd love to see something similar in Asia.
Barry Svrluga: Great question. I don't believe they will have the same kind of academy in Asia as they do in the Dominican Republic. But assistant GM Mike Rizzo and scout Bill Singer just returned from a trip to Asia, and I'm anxious to talk to them about this. The scouting over there is largely of players who are already professionals. It's different than in Latin America. It's my hope to write a story about the Nationals' efforts there by the end of the season -- or, perhaps, in November when things start to slow down after the playoffs. I know they consider it a very important area.
Florida: Your list of starting pitchers vying for jobs next year did not include John Patterson. Is there something you're not telling us?
Barry Svrluga: Sorry, sorry. Yes, Patterson. Slipped the mind.
But keep in mind that the club has to make a decision on whether to tender him a contract. If they do that, he's arbitration eligible and will make more than the $850,000 he earned this year. I know there are some people who believe it's not worth it, that they're better off non-tendering him and then trying to re-sign him to a deal with a base salary of maybe $500K or so with lots of incentives based on innings pitched and games started, etc.
To my mind, it seems to me that even if he makes $950,000, the pitching depth isn't quite to the point where you just completely toss away a guy with that potential. But it's an argument that I think has two very interesting sides.
Atlanta: Is Steve Yanda actually an intern? Will he be taking over for you when you switch to the Olympics?
Barry Svrluga: Yanda is/was an intern. He headed back to Marquette for his senior year. And I'm not "switching" to the Olympics. I'm just going to Beijing next year as part of the Post's team. Really looking forward to it.
Section 510: Can you elaborate on your Journal comment regarding the discontent with Lopez's actions and attitude? His defense is certainly costing them as we saw yet again last night. Will moving him back to second help or have things gone sour no matter where he plays?
Barry Svrluga: See above for elaboration. I definitely don't think things have soured beyond repair, and I certainly wouldn't take a guy not talking to the media to mean that things are just horrible. Yes, there are people in the organization who are frustrated with him, but both Bowden and Acta publicly defended him yesterday -- I'll get that in the $.35 edition when I can -- and I think it'll just make for an interesting situation when they have Guzman, Lopez and Belliard all healthy, which could be within two weeks.
Famous Chicken for Screech?: My husband would be on board with a Screech trade, as Screech was, um, intruding on his personal space at Saturday's game. We had a chance to see the World Famous (San Diego) Chicken at Friday's P-Nats game -- what a hoot! Don't suppose there's any chance of a straight-up Chicken for Screech trade? Seriously, I do realize that kiddies love Screech, but that pelvic thrusting -- yuck.
Barry Svrluga: It's like he learned it at some strip club for mascots or something. It's really amazing.
Dating myself: Once saw the (then-San Diego) Chicken at a Minnesota Kix North American Soccer League game. He held up a picture of Loni Anderson in a bikini to distract a dude taking a corner kick.
D.C.: What is Ryan Church's future with the team?
Barry Svrluga: This is an intriguing question, which is amazing that we're still saying that, because it seems like I would have answered it the same way at this point in 2005.
Does Church still have trade value? Well, he's going to end up with 40 doubles, and it would seem that a hitter with that potential would have value. But at the same time, he hasn't proven that he's absolutely an every-day guy. I know Church doesn't mind the idea of being a fourth outfielder. But have the Nats held onto him for too long to get much in return in a trade? That's one possibility that has been suggested to me.
Sterling,VA: We've heard about the trade possibilities for an Adam Dunn, or Torii Hunter type of ballplayer. We obviously won't be going after anyone in this free agent class as far as pitching goes. So what pitchers might we be looking to trade for? Is Johann Santana out of the question? And what about the middle infield? Might we be looking to upgrade there?
Barry Svrluga: I do not think that pursuit of Johan Santana is out of the question. The Twins have a bit of a problem on their hands, what with Joe Nathan, Morneau and Mauer all big earners on the horizon. Will they be able to sign Santana before his contract expires after 2008? Will they trade him this offseason as a pre-emptive move.
If he hits the free agent market, look out. You could be looking at a $20 million/year pitcher.
Bratislava, Slovakia: Why bring Langerhans back? They don't need him in the field and certainly not as a pinch-hitter? Why the obsession with this guy?
Barry Svrluga: I wouldn't call it an obsession. I do think that he's a good guy to have as a fifth outfielder. He pinch ran last night, and he's a superior defender. I wouldn't read too much into it. It's not like they envision him as a starter long-term, and he won't start much over the last four weeks.
Silver Spring, Md.:"-Patterson]'s arbitration eligible and will make more than the $850,000 he earned this year."
Why? He was arb-eligible this year, and lost. And his production this season was considerably below that of last season. And he'll be coming off surgery.
I can see him coming in at a half-mil, easy. What am I missing?
Barry Svrluga: There are rules that in arbitration you can't go backwards. You have to go a small percentage up. Crazy, but true.
Miami: Barry - Do you speak Spanish? I've heard it makes a difference in bonding with the Latin players. Could this account for Felipe blowing you off?
Barry Svrluga: Felipe's English is excellent, and he grew up in the Orlando area. But I have explained to many Spanish-speaking players that I feel horrible about not knowing their language. It would be great to be able to speak fluently with these guys in their own language, and I definitely think it would help with credibility in the clubhouse.
I do remember one conversation -- or a series of conversations -- I had with Jose Guillen about all this a few years back. His stance was simple: The Latin American players are over here playing an American game for, by and large, American owners, and it's up to them to learn how to speak English (which he does quite well). It was an interesting take.
Vienna, Va.: Is there any way to lose the term "walk off?
It's applied any time a team wins a game in the ninth. I saw Zimmerman "walk off" on Sunday, but if Lopez hadn't "run off" and busted a good slide, he would have been out.
Can we save it for a game winning homer, when indeed, the batter can walk around and walk "off?"
Barry Svrluga: I try not to use it in the $.35 edition, but I think it's really referring to the opponent, which is left to walk off the field while the winners celebrate.
Bowie, Md.: So when you say the "attendance" was 16,000+ ... why can't you guys estimate the actual number showing up in their seats as opposed to what the team says is "paid attendance"? That seems more relevant and not hard to estimate, since you're at so many games. I used to go to Senators' games when 1500 people would show up (seriously, we could count 'em) and they'd announce 12,000 or something.
Barry Svrluga: Yeah, official attendance in MLB is tickets bought, not turnstile clicks. As long as what we're reporting is consistent throughout the league, I think this is OK. Plus, I wouldn't want to put myself in position of every night saying, "Well, I'd guess there were 12,000 people here," when it's just a guess, after all.
Attendance -- however it's reported -- is a huge issue going forward. Stan Kasten is on the record as saying it takes three million fans to effectively run a major league franchise. That means the Nationals will have to draw roughly 13,000 more fans per game next season in the new ballpark. Doable? We'll see.
Washington DC: Peavy would be a lock for Cy Young in the NL right now, but the other Cy Young and the MVPs seem to be pick 'em at this point. Forced to choose, I'd go with Sabbathia, A-Rod, and Ryan Howard. How about you?
Barry Svrluga: I actually think A-Rod's going to be impossible to overlook. The stats are just ridiculous. If Magglio Ordonez has a huge September and the Tigers somehow make the playoffs, I suppose you could argue for him.
Howard's numbers are pretty absurd given how slowly he started and the fact that he spent time on the DL. I'd actually give Josh Beckett the edge of Sabbathia, though I don't think that one's been decided.
Laurel: I remember hearing about the lack of power/production of the middle infield a couple of journals back, has management seriously considered moving Zimm back to short and Marrero (I know he's a couple of years off) back to third instead of the outfield?
Barry Svrluga: No, they have not. They consider Zimmerman -- who hasn't played shortstop since high school, despite some reports that had him there at UVa -- a Gold Glove third baseman for the next 15 years. Marrero is going to play left field long-term, unless he can master first base. He's got to improve somewhere defensively.
Collective Bargaining Agreement: Re: Offering Patterson more than 850k next season: "A Club may submit a salary figure for salary arbitration that is at least 80% of the Player's previous year's salary and earned performance bonuses (and at least 70% of his salary and earned performance bonuses two years previous) . . ."
Barry Svrluga: That clears that up.
Washington, DC: Is there any merit to the idea of giving Flores some time at AA to build some chemistry with Detwiler and the other arms currently at A who may make it to Harrisburg next season?
Barry Svrluga: Not sure they think that way. I posted a very long-winded entry on Nationals Journal this morning with lots of thoughts from Jim Bowden on Jesus Flores. It seems that while the thinking before the season was that Flores would end up in Class AA Harrisburg next year, that's changed. He can clearly handle being a backup/platoon guy. Read that post and you'll get a good handle on Bowden's thinking and the depth of the issue.
Why Do I ever Play?: Why does Fick ever get in the game? Surely, there could have been someone better. He has a .200 average, no power, no speed and is an okay first baseman and terrible left fielder. Also, PR him for Dimitri? Now, Dimiti is certainly no speed deamon, but come on?
Barry Svrluga: Fick basically is used as a defensive replacement for Young now, and hardly ever plays in the outfield anymore. He won't play there the rest of the year, I'd guess, what with the expanded rosters. You'll note that, even with a right-hander on the mound last night in crunch time, Acta didn't consider pinch-hitting the left-handed hitting Fick (or Church, for that matter) for Flores.
18th & K: Barry,
Why does Acta continually pull starters early? I've heard the "leave on a good note" psychological garbage and it seems to back fire every single time. I believe it happened twice in LA and a few other times on the road trip. The game on Monday would have been over much faster if Bergman pitched the 8th. In that case, he is pitching well, leave him out there. If they score a few runs on them, so be it. Giving the pitchers a confidence boost in their ability instead of sheltering their experience would go a long way to helping establish success.
Barry Svrluga: Acta considers the bullpen the strength of this team. Most of the time, he's been right. Bergmann had thrown 108 pitches. His high for the season is 110. That was enough in Acta's mind. Last night, he took Hill out after 97 pitches and 6-1/3 innings because he had had trouble retiring left-handed hitters all night, and he brought in Arnie Munoz to retire a lefty, which he did.
There seems to be a thread in the fan base, old-schoolers I suppose, who want these guys to throw 120 pitches a lot. They're just not going to do it.
MD's Eastern Shore: Went to my first Nats game Sunday with my family. Had a great time but my ears are still ringing from the pre-game loudspeaker show. What's up with the racing presidents? Roosevelt not only hasn't won a race all year but he didn't even finish the race.
Barry Svrluga: Ah, Eastern Shore. You are new to the Presidents Race? You have much to learn.
Everybody -- and I mean EVERYBODY -- hopes there is a better PA system in the new park. That way we'll maybe be able to hear what Clint is shouting into that mic.
Mount Pleasant, DC: I was there for Wily Mo Coyote's blast on Monday. Wow. Is he going to play everyday next year? Kearns in right, Wily in left, and the aforementioned free agent signing in center?
Barry Svrluga: I was asking around about that earlier. There's no telling what might happen next year, but that's certainly the leader in the clubhouse. If Church and Wily Mo are both here, I suppose they could platoon, but we'll see. They're definitely going to start WMP the rest of the way to see if he can figure things out a bit more. Did you see him flail at those two sliders last night? Why throw him a fastball after that? He hit the 3-2 fastball relatively hard into right, setting things up for Flores.
Section 535 sitting in 321: Barry:
Thanks for your work. What's the deal with Jimenez and Batista? Neither has been wildly helpful in a pinch hit role (Jimenez in particular). Why not let some minor league players get some at bats?
Barry Svrluga: On the contrary, Batista has been quite good as a pinch hitter. He hit the ball to the wall last night in a pinch-hit at-bat. He has 13 pinch hits this year, and only Mark Sweeney of the Giants-Dodgers has more.
Jimenez has struggled, yes.
Sec 310A (last night):"You'll note that, even with a right-hander on the mound last night in crunch time, Acta didn't consider pinch-hitting the left-handed hitting Fick (or Church, for that matter) for Flores."
Church was in fact on deck to hit after Flores.
Barry Svrluga: Yes, but I meant for Flores.
Nat's Hierarchy: Do you think that Felipe's fielding was responsible for any of last night's runs? Should he have played in front of the bag and gotten spiked to stop the steal?
Barry Svrluga: Absolutely. Had things turned out differently, I would have written about this. I believe he made two mistakes in that inning -- making a poor tag on the stolen base, then throwing to first when he ranged nicely into a hole to get Amezaga's grounder. He had Ramirez dead at third -- and his momentum was going that way. Seems like that was the better play to make.
Phoenix: Why are some people so quick to cite the Nats' attendance as some sort of proof Washington doesn't "deserve" baseball? The numbers aren't much different from the Diamondbacks' -- and the Snakes are battling for the division lead in a modern, air-conditioned ballpark!
Barry Svrluga: I don't know that it has anything to do with "deserving" baseball. I think it has to do with whether the Lerners have purchased a viable business, one that can generate the kind of revenue they'll need to pay big bucks to star players who could develop a winner here.
Section 506 (After moving): Hey Barry, what's it like in the press box? Last night got me thinking, people expect baseball reporters to be fans of the team they cover (unlike, say, people covering the presidential candidates) as long as they're not homers.
So is something like last night different in he press box? Charlie sure sounded mad with joy last night. Do people jump up and cheer like fans in the stands? Do the Florida guys look bummed? I can't think I've ever heard one of the opposing team's guys on a broadcast cheering, do you sit in separate boxes?
Barry Svrluga: We sit in completely separate boxes from the radio people, though Charlie wanders into the writers' box when he has off innings and Jageler is calling things.
There's a huge distinction between the broadcast crews and the beat writers. I can't say this clearly enough: There is no cheering in the press box. We are impartial observers. Charlie and Dave and the MASN guys are selected by the club. They say things like "we" because they travel with the team and, in a very real way, are part of the marketing arm of the club.
The press box, after a moment like Flores's game-winning hit, is actually very quiet. People are observing the celebration, taking notes and -- most importantly -- re-writing our early stories. You've never seen guys type so fast as when a sure loss turns into a sudden win -- and you've got to file immediately before rushing downstairs so you don't miss what Acta and players have to say before you come up and re-write for the next edition. It's exhilarating, to be sure, but not because you're excited the home team won.
Leave 'em in until it's too late:"Gee, I've pulled the trigger five times and not gotten shot. I guess this Russian Roulette isn't dangerous after all..."
Barry Svrluga: Ha!
SW DC: Hi Barry -
What has happened to Brandon Watson? Why wasn't he a September call up? He played pretty well here when he was up earlier in the year (after that long AAA hit streak), then was sent down (which at the time I thought was a mistake) because he was caught in a numbers squeeze and had an option left. With Nook playing well there is not much room for him, but it would make the bench a little deeper, and would provide a also provide quality pinch runner. Have they given up on him as a prospect? Thanks.
Barry Svrluga: Watson finished the year hitting .313 for Class AAA Columbus. The truth is, the organization doesn't view him as a prospect. Keep in mind they're not alone in that regard. He was jettisoned by Cincinnati and Detroit as well.
Svrluga's Job Security: Why do the Nationals game reports continue to appear on the back burner? Page E6 does not cut it! Explain please. Thanks!
Barry Svrluga: You might note, as we revisit this topic, that that happened this morning, but it wasn't true the other day when Zimmerman hit his walk-off, nor was it true on Monday when Bergmann pitched well and Rauch and Cordero came on to close it out.
Just an Observation: Loved your coverage of the Teddy Bobblehead race. I was there, and I don't want to overdo this analysis. But, it seemed to me the crowd was really fired up in the innings leading up to the President's race -- aided by various diamond-vision cheerleading. Then the race took place, TR lost and the crowd seemed very deflated. Very quiet for the next couple of innings. Doesn't that kind of contradict the purpose behind such in-park stunts -- they're supposed to whip the crowd up, as opposed to let them down? Do the Nats, owners of nonwinning records all three of their seasons, really want to send out the message "Once a loser, always a loser" ?
Barry Svrluga: Um, I think it's too late. I think you overdid the analysis.
There was definitely a frenzy on Saturday night -- when they drew more than 30,000 for Teddy Bobblehead night -- in anticipation of a potential Teddy win.
Columbia, MD: I just started reading your book "National Pastime" and I just wanted to compliment you are your writing. It is a joy to read. I really like your writing style. Thank you.
Barry Svrluga: Columbia, you are kind. Book's still available on amazon.com, folks. Might seem a bit dated at this point. Maybe this team will give me reason to write another one some day.
23rd and F: Do you think any of the current callups stick with the team next year? Are there any other minor leaguers you think will make next year's squad?
Barry Svrluga: Interesting question. I think they'll give Arnie Munoz a real look-see as a left-handed specialist, which is something they'll have to have next season -- whether it's Ray King re-signed or someone who's cheaper. They're definitely giving Jonathan Albaladejo, who looks like a big sturdy kid, a look-see. Langerhans is the kind of guy that could stick as a fifth outfielder, as I mentioned.
But as for outfielder Justin Maxwell and lefty Ross Detwiler -- I don't see it. Maxwell is an impressive physical specimen, and the Nats love Detwiler's long-term potential. But I would think both would start next season at Class AA Harrisburg, with the chance to move up quickly if they excel.
Richmond, VA: So does "Weapons of Mass Production" have a decent shot at starting next year? I am guessing it would be in one corner of the outfield.
Barry Svrluga: Let's look at Wily Mo's production:
Boston: 73 G/156 AB, 5 HR, 17 RBI, .218 average, .385 slugging percentage
Washington: 16 G/53 AB, 5 HR, 9 RBI, .245 average, .547 slugging percentage
If they can find a center fielder who's a good OBP guy, a productive offensive player, they will definitely give this guy a chance to play every day. He does, however, have 73 strikeouts in 209 at-bats this year. Do the math. That's more than once every three at-bats. Wow.
Alexandria, Va.: So, have the Nationals been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs? If not...what's our magic number? (And, when can we start buying playoff tickets?)
Barry Svrluga: No, not mathematically eliminated yet. I believe they're 16.5 games out with 23 to play. I'll let you know when you can put the X by their name.
Barry Svrluga: Folks, the hour's up, and I've got to head out to the yard. Hope to see at least 16,000 of you there tonight. Thanks for stopping by. Read the coverage in the $.35 edition (even on those days you have to flip to page E6) and at the Journal. I'll talk to you next week.
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