Wednesday, April 9, at 2 p.m. ET

Washington Nationals

Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, April 9, 2008; 2:00 PM

Washington Post writer Barry Svrluga was online Wednesday, April 9 at 1 p.m. ET to take your questions and comments about the Washington Nationals.

A 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."


Barry Svrluga: Greetings, folks. This is the first chat from my perch high above Nationals Park. Let's talk anything you want today -- baseball, attendance, whatever.

I will make this observation some five hours before game-time: There is no national championship game tonight. The weather is quite nice. It'll be interesting to monitor how many folks show up tonight -- and over the weekend, with two afternoon games against a more attracive opponent, the Braves.


Round Hill, Va.: What to make of the Nats' reluctance to shelve Dmitri and Cordero? Both seemed destined for DL stints and the club let them merely eat roster spots before relenting on both.

Barry Svrluga: Indeed, that was somewhat odd. It left Manny Acta short on both the bench and in the bullpen. With Young, they were clearly hoping he'd get better fast -- though sending him home from St. Louis Friday night made it obvious he wasn't going to be available over the weekend. Cordero will throw tonight -- an inning for Class A Potomac -- and appears on target to return Friday.

That leaves the Nationals with moves to make over the weekend, one to bring back Cordero and possibly another to bring back Shawn Hill.


Arlington, Va.: So, if six people show up again for tonight's game what will the excuses be? I thought the shiny new ballpark was supposed to be a draw all by itself. Does this prove that DC just isn't a baseball town? Or that DC only supports a winner?

Barry Svrluga: This is obviously going to be something to watch. I'm going to sit back and at least take measure of the first homestand.

But we know some things about attendance right now. They almost can't match 2005's 2.7 million because the season-ticket base is lower by 4,500 or so -- 18,000 this year, according to Stan Kasten, and 22,500 then, according to Tony Tavares and the people who worked here then.

I think this will be fodder for interesting discussions about the job the Lerners and Kasten are doing, the nature of D.C. as a sports town and a baseball town, etc. As Kasten has said in the past, "We'll get the attendance we deserve."


Trade rumors?: Barry,

There has been lots of speculation on your journal/blog about trade suitors for Nick Johnson. Can you tell us what you have heard, if anything? Would the Nats really pull the trigger on a Johnson trade with Dmitri being sent to the DL?


Barry Svrluga: I should address this more. Yes, Nick Johnson could be traded, no doubt -- and I'm not even sure Young's health is a factor in such a potential trade.

Think about it: If Johnson is healthy, and he's proven that he is, he is as valuable a commodity as the Nationals have in trade, a left-handed hitter who gets on base a ton and plays good defense. The Nationals believe their future at first base is Chris Marrero. Both Young and Johnson are under contract through 2009, and Johnson is affordable -- $5.5M/year for next two years -- for another club.

I'll poke around about this more. But remember: This club is still planning for the future more than the present, and if they can get other pieces for the future -- legitimate, high-end prospects -- in return for someone like Nick Johnson, they could do it.


McLean, Va.: Did you notice that someone has anonymously reserved the domain names:,, and

Looks to me like possible naming rights candidates for Nationals Park.

I checked some of the other plausible local outfits and did not find them.

Too bad. "Jerry's Ford Field" or "Western Auto Park" have a ring to them, don't they?

Barry Svrluga: I have been told that neither of those two companies -- Marriott and Geico -- are truly in the running for naming rights to Nationals Park. I think those could be squatters.


Attendance Woes: Barry, how can you make excuses for the Nats on Monday? Yep, there was a basketball game, but it was between two teams from the midwest. Neither of those schools have a lot of alumni here and in my office building, one in 25 people knew there was a basketball game.

Then to blame the weather. HA! I've been to sold out Camden Yards in worse weather agains Kansas City or Texas, because those were the only games I could get tickets to.

Another question, where do you park when you go to the game?

Barry Svrluga: Let's be clear: I am not making excuses for the Nats on Monday. I quoted Stan Kasten, who listed what he perceived as the reasons for a crowd of 20,000-and change. You can choose to buy into what he said or not.


Section 102, Nats Park: I cannot explain how embarassed I am regarding the attendance at Monday's Nationals game. I turned on the TV and saw a plethora of empty seats around the stadium. I thought this city wanted a baseball team? Yet they are already wavering in their support. It was the second game ever in the new stadium for crying out loud!! I have a 20 game plan and will be at the game tonight. If the attendance is as bad as it was Monday then this city is truly a joke in terms of baseball and I will understand why franchises have left not once, but twice. (PS- I'm not buy the whole "its cold out - the NCAA championship was on excuse.)

Yours Truly,

Visiting Bullpen Heckler

Barry Svrluga: You are not alone. I hadn't even gotten out of bed Tuesday morning and I had phone messages and e-mails, both about the attendance and Kasten's defense of it.

Again, I'm trying to take the semi-long view here. But -- also again -- this is an issue that bears watching.


Arlington, Va.: Barry,

Watching the Phils beat the Nats last week (first lost of the year) it became apparent to me that Ronnie Belliard is an awful defensively. Those were some hot shots hit his way but he reminded me of a bull fighter...just waving his glove at the ball. Any decent middle-infielders illegible for free-agency after this season??

Barry Svrluga: I would defend Belliard a bit. Could he have made either of those plays? Sure. But they were completely hot smashes. He is not "awful" defensively. Actually, I think he's much better than I ever would have guessed, a really smart positional defender.

Middle infield: You're right that this club is going to have to overhaul its middle infield beginning in 2009. Felipe Lopez and Cristian Guzman are both free agents after this season, and I'll eat my hat if either is re-signed (though I guess I should hold off on Guzman if his price is reasonable and he has a very good 2008). Belliard is the only middle infielder under contract through 2009, and he's at a very reasonable price -- $1.6 million this year, $1.9 million next.

It'll be worth watching potential trades for the middle infield this summer and/or next winter.


Section $18 and no more, DC: Barry,

Are the Nats going to get the kinks out of the food service or are they going to need to start putting those Disneyland signs up near the Chili Bowl -- 1 hour to chili from here, 45 minutes to chili from here etc . . .?

Barry Svrluga: Kasten addressed this the other night. He calls it part of the learning experience for both the club and the fans. The team didn't know there would be such an overwhelming response to both of those places, so they will adjust staffing accordingly. They also want to educate fans that some of the stuff from those two establishments is available at other stands.

I would allow some leeway here. They are meeting about these kinds of issues constantly.


Section 209: Any chance Dukes will be back before May 1?

Barry Svrluga: Doubtful. They are going to be very cautious about his injury, and even when he's able to play, I'd guess he'd take a good week or two on a rehab assignment.

This update, however, on Wily Mo Pena. He played five innings in a game in extended spring training in Viera, Fla., and went 2 for 4 with a double. Nats officials said he ran the bases well and had several opportunities in left field. He's scheduled to DH tomorrow down there, and if all goes well, Jim Bowden said he'd likely go to Columbus for a rehab assignment early next week.


Washington, D.C.: I know there has been a lot of teeth-gnashing over the attendance at the game on Monday. I was watching on TV and was disappointed myself. Stan Kasten mentioned a lot of factors (cold weather, school night, NCAA final, boring opponent), but isn't it possible that another factor is the economy? Even in this area, where people seemingly are doing pretty well, most people are at least a little nervous over the state of the economy, and that may be causing people to be a little more careful with their disposable income. It costs a bundle to go to the game if you plan on purchasing at least one thing from a stadium vendor. Figure a family of 4 for tickets, at least one vendor item, and transportation (unless parking for free at RFK) and that could easily get to over $100. I'm guessing that people who allot themselves a certain number of games per year would rather those games be later in the year, with better weather and no school. I'm part of a season ticket group, so I'll be going to games with those tickets, and I'll probably get other tickets to a game or two throughout the year, but I definitely don't want to spend my baseball money in April, when I'd be dressing for a football game. Just a thought.

Barry Svrluga: Oh, I think there are all kinds of factors -- everything that Kasten sites to what you site. It's a very, very complex equation. But one thing doesn't change: The lifeblood of a franchise is a strong season-ticket base. If your season-ticket base is 25,000, even if no one shows up, your attendance is announced at 25,000. It's the baseline of an entire season.


Washington, D.C.: Barry,

Now that you've had a few games in the new park and I assume walked around the whole stadium, do you have any revised opinion as to which seats offer the best value?

Barry Svrluga: To be honest, I have not sat in every section since the park opened. I went to my seats in Section 219 -- Club level -- and am thrilled. My group loves them.

The seats that people have told me are great values are the ones in Sections 201-205 and 223-235, the second deck seats down the lines, the mezzanine seats, which are $33 for regular games, $38 for premium games and $25 for full season plans. Good views for the right price.

I'll go do some more scouting soon.


The Sky Is Falling: Up until a month ago, DC wasn't a hockey town either. It's amazing what a winning team will do for attendance. Not to sound like a team apologist, but I think people realize that they have 80 more chances to catch a ballgame.

Barry Svrluga: That's absolutely a valid point of view, and it's part of the reason why I'm trying to take the long view.

The Capitals offer an interesting comparison to the Nationals, too. They took a slow build approach as well. Now, it's paying off. Will the Nationals pay off in the same way?


O's attendance: On Monday was 10,000 fans. Take away from that what you will.

Barry Svrluga: I would point out this, however: That's after 10 years of losing, and that has clearly worn on that town. This franchise is supposed to get some juice from the beautiful new ballpark.

Just throwing out the different arguments I've heard.


Friends of Willie Harris: What was that cracking sound when Willie was hit by a pitch Monday night? The TV guys thought that he had broken a bone. Is he okay?

Barry Svrluga: He appeared to be okay the other night, but I'll check again. The addition of Johnny Estrada to the roster today gives the Nationals another left-handed bat off the bench to join Harris (Estrada's a pinch hitter), something they didn't have with Lopez starting in left field and Dmitri Young unavailable because of his bad back.


Oakton, Va.: With Chad's return imminent, is Ray King at risk for being released?

His performance to date has been very poor.

Barry Svrluga: I don't believe so. Relievers are the most volatile commodity in baseball.

King has retired six of the seven left-handed hitters he's faced. He has allowed five of the six right-handed hitters he's faced to reach base -- two hits (including Jimmy Rollins's homer), two walks and a hit batsman. Perhaps, then, more of an issue is how King is being used. The starting pitchers have to be able to go six or seven innings in order for Acta to simply use King, his only lefty, for a one-batter situation.

If they can get to that point, he might be more effective.

When Cordero comes back, I would expect Chris Schroder to be optioned to Class AAA Columbus.


Eastern Motors Park: Just sayin' ....

Barry Svrluga: It is, in fact, Easterns Motors, I believe. But that would make for some fabulous ad campaigns -- and more fodder than Steinberg could handle.


Minneapolis: Five-game losing streak. You have the goat horns. To which faction do you award them? Starting pitching? Bullpen? Offense? Defense? Management?

Barry Svrluga: It'd be easy to fault the defense after the other night's Milledge-and-Guzman debacle, but they had made only one error in the seven games before that. It'd be easy to fault the bullpen, which hasn't been up to its normal standards.

But I'll go with the lack of clutch hitting. They've left the bases loaded nine times. Someone has to suck it up and get a tough two-out hit with the bases loaded.


Jesus Flores: I proved last year that I can call a game and that I can hit. Why am I being sent down? Is money an issue? Will it cost more to make me the everyday catcher?

Barry Svrluga: No, you're very cheap if you're in the majors whether you start or not. You are being sent down -- eventually, and likely to Class AAA Columbus now, I believe -- because the club honestly believes you need to catch every day. Your employers are paying Paul Lo Duca $5 million to be the everyday catcher, and they are paying Johnny Estrada -- formerly a starter -- $1.25 million to be the backup.

You know in your heart you need more work, even though you're very confident in your own abilities. Go down to the minors and work hard. The club believes you're the catcher of the future.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Barry,

At what point does patience wear thin with Manny Acta. Believe me, I love the guy and think he's great for the young players; but at some point, management will say "ok, we're not supposed to play .500 ball" If we don't field a better-than-.500 team in say 2 years, is he a goner?

Barry Svrluga: Getting ahead of yourself there, I think. Acta is a very patient man. "Preach and teach," he says, and though he would have liked his team to make more plays over the past week, his career is not in jeopardy over a five-game losing streak.

Acta will be expected to grow with the franchise. The expectations for this team in 2008 are not to compete for a title. He's going to tell his players that they're trying to win every day, but he's a realist. Look at the rosters of the other teams in the NL East. There's no Howard, Rollins, Reyes, Wright, Delgado, Jones, Teixeira, etc. here.

Deep breaths, folks.


McLean, Va.: Well, until they sell long-term naming about:

"There is no place to" Park

Brought to you by Metro.

Barry Svrluga: I love it.

"You are looking live at There's No Place To Park, where tonight the Nationals host the Braves. This will be one of the most anticipated matchups in There's No Place To Park history, and it seems like there's no place to park outside There's No Place To Park right now. Your lineups ..."


A Plea to Nats Fans: If you're waiting in line to purchase food/drinks at Nationals Park, and the wait is too long for you, please step out of line and find something else. The long wait can be bad enough - listening to other people complain (30 minutes before first pitch, no less) makes it worse. I've been to 17 major league ballparks - including some truly awful ones like the Vet, the Trop, and Shea - and I've never heard fans complain as much as this.

Barry Svrluga: Expectations are obviously high. Stan Kasten prides himself on customer service, so people should expect a high bar. But you're right: People have to be realistic, too. If you're complaining about long lines when there are 20,000 folks here, wait till -- gulp -- a crowd of 25,000 shows up.


Hyattsville, Md.: Any indication on who will be the odd-man-out when Chad is activated from the DL? Performance would lead you to believe Colome, but Schroder still has options left. Any chance they'll send down Flores and go with an 8 man bullpen till Pena is back?

Barry Svrluga: Re, Flores: that is also possible. You're right about Schroder. They won't risk losing Colome. They want as much depth, even though Schroder has generally pitched better.

Randy St. Claire has identified Colome's problem. He's over-rotating his torso, which is another way of saying he's trying to throw the ball through a brick wall. He'd rather he relax, throw 93-94 and have some idea of where the ball's going.


Fios Land, Verizon: No MASNHD on my Fios lineup.

Stan better do something about this nonsense.

Barry Svrluga: Not to let the club off the hook here -- not a lot of people at Nationals Park believe I'm very good at that -- but this is a MASN issue. The club is frustrated by their lack of control over the television issue, but they don't own their own rights.

MASN has worked with individual carriers to get the HD signal out. I will check on the Fios issue.


Arlington, Va.: Barry,

Any chance we see Chico demoted in the next week?

Barry Svrluga: If Shawn Hill is healthy, they will have to send one starting pitcher to Class AAA Columbus. Only two men currently in the rotation have options remaining, Chico and John Lannan. If Lannan pitches well his second time through -- and his start is supposed to be Saturday afternoon against the Braves -- it's quite possible Chico will end up in Columbus.


We had Soriano: I get that this roster is less than talented but who's fault if that ... we had a 50 HR guy in RFK. We had the chance to get free agents but Stan's plan does not allow for it ... why should we spend our money if their plan is to not compete until some future date when some future draft pick might be good.

Barry Svrluga: It's an interesting question. The club's argument is you want to be in on the ground floor, that fans should trust them that they're building it the right way. There's evidence that that is true -- the farm system is getting stronger, and there's reason to believe that some of their prospects will become big league stars, something that wasn't the case a couple years ago.

Soriano: There are not a lot of people in baseball that believe that eight-year deal will look good four years from now. And he's off to a terribly slow start as it is.

But it's an individual decision. There's no obligation to spend money on this team now. Some fans will be more patient than others, no question.


Capitol Hill: Horns go to Bud Selig. He (and the other 29 owners) is the one who forced this team to give away Vladdy, Grady, Pedro, Brandon Phillips, Orlando Hudson, Javy Vazquez, Jason Bay, Chris Young and so many others for nuthin'.

Fans need to understand that our team sucks because major league baseball purposely destroyed this franchise in an effort to either contract or blackmail some poor baseball desperate city for a team.

When we rebuild to respectability we'll fill the stadium, but Bud should have thought about that before he decided to destroy this franchise.

Barry Svrluga: Still another take.

There are myriad ways to look at this whole issue depending on how far you want to look backwards and how long you're willing to look forward.


Lincoln, Neb.: What, no post-game podcasts anymore?

Barry Svrluga: Ah, someone noticed.

Indeed, we have cut out the podcasts from the daily routine. To be honest, I never could really get an idea from the folks at how many folks were downloading them last year. They were fun -- to a point, but they also changed the way I reported stories in the clubhouse, always having to have my recorder there instead of just taking notes.

I'm glad to know there's at least one person who misses them.


Where's J-Max?: Is Justin Maxwell getting called up this week?

Barry Svrluga: Doubtful -- but he is the first outfielder, I believe, they'd go get if they needed to.


Washington, D.C.: What is the back story on the TV rights? I know Angelos worked some deal, but how long will the Nats be subservient to Angelos, and why should they have to put up with it?

Barry Svrluga: Forever. The team gets more of a cut as time goes on, but MASN is a joint venture between the Nationals and Orioles, with the Orioles owning more of a cut.


Mississauga, ON: Barry,

Are they going to give Shawn a start on Monday, or will get get another minor league start? Any idea how is arm is after last night?

Barry Svrluga: Shawn said his arm felt pretty good last night. I'll check in more today.

And we should get more information about the plans for Hill later today -- or perhaps tomorrow. They definitely want to see how his arm reacts to the outing last night.


Re: We had Soriano: Can we get a commitment from these folks that "don't want to invest right now" that, in 2010, when they ask for tickets, they will identify themselves as shameless front runners?

Barry Svrluga: Doubtful we'll get that kind of commitment, but it's always worth asking.


Washington, D.C.: Shouldn't there be a concern that Paul LaDuca's numbers were inflated by his steroid use, and that -- like so many users -- his performance and/or health is about to fall off the table? Relatedly, don't the Nats feel that they got ripped off a bit, with him signing just before the Mitchell report was released? Had the timing been reversed, he would have been significantly cheaper, I have to assume.

Barry Svrluga: If you look at all the people named in the Mitchell Report and relate the supposed dates of their use to their performance, there isn't as direct a correlation as you might think. That said, people are welcome to -- and they will -- speculate about such things.

Indeed, the Nationals would have preferred to know about Lo Duca's involvement before the signing. But I'm not sure it would have prevented them from making the deal. History doesn't tell us that.


Northern, Va.: Barry:

Is there any quiet concern in the Nats' camp that the bullpen has been the weak link thus far? A unit that was supposed to be a strength has pretty much fallen apart early. Until the Nats get some starting pitching that can consistently eat innings, they have to perform or the team's got little chance.

Barry Svrluga: I think there is a desire for the group to pitch better as a whole -- particularly Colome. But Saul Rivera had one bad outing and has been lights-out otherwise. When Cordero comes back, everyone falls into their normal roles. I don't think there's a lot of angst internally over the bullpen after eight games.


Arlington, Va.: Hi Barry,

Loved your book.

What are the chances that the Nats will see any game with an attendance of more than 30,000 while the Caps and Wizards are still in the playoffs?

Barry Svrluga: I think it could happen. I really think if the weather's good this weekend there could be a nice crowd for one of the afternoon games against the Braves.

Thanks on the book. I've got copies of "National Pastime" if people can't track it down. Just let me know.


Arlington, Va.: Would a win by Teddy improve attendance?

Barry Svrluga: An interesting thought. I don't see it in the forecast, however.


The Constituency: Barry,

Words: "Pitching, pitching, pitching."

Actions: Outfielder, catcher, outfielder, retread pitcher, retread pitcher

I'm not worried that the season is lost because the Nats are on an L-streak, but in only one of those losses have the Nats not scored multiple runs. It seems that if our pitching staff is just a little better we'll be in a position to win (even with some of our big bats on the DL, which seems to be a problem to one degree or another since 2006).

Why is there such a disconnect between the club's words and actions? Why, if we need "Pitching, pitching, pitching" are we taking rejects from the Astros and Royals?

I know there are encouraging apprentices in the farm system and I can't wait to see them in the coming years, but it seems that we could be winners now with some slight upgrades.

Barry Svrluga: I'm not sure there is a disconnet here, actually. The "pitching, pitching, pitching" has to do with the long-term plan, and they did address pitching in last year's draft -- particularly with Detwiler, Smoker and McGeary.

I get where you're coming from. But I think when Bowden says "pitching, pitching, pitching," he's talking about the organization's long-term goals.


Silver Spring, Md.: I don't mean to be contrary, but why does the other night's attendance matter? The team has a 30-year lease in the ballpark. They're not going anywhere. You could say this affects how the Lerners will run the team, but we're already left to believe they might not be loose with the purse strings even if they draw 35,000 fans every night. I know a 1/2 full ballpark looks bad on TV, but let's focus more on the team out on the field of play.

Barry Svrluga: I think people are concerned about the perceptions of both the franchise and the nature of D.C. as a sports town in general. People get a better vibe when the park is packed, when they can tell people in other cities, "Hey, it's a hot ticket. The park is beautiful. It's tough to get good seats." It's just more depressing to say, "Yep, Opening Night was great, but it's a bummer the rest of the time."

Again, let's watch the attendance over the next week, month and year.


Barry Svrluga: Folks, tons of left-over questions, but I've got to run. Thanks for stopping by, and I'll talk to you next week from Shea Stadium.

In the meantime, drop by Nationals Journal for updates, etc., and come out to the yard this week some time. Perhaps the home club could win a couple.


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