Wednesday, April 23, at 2 p.m. ET

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Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, April 23, 2008; 2:00 PM

Washington Post writer Barry Svrluga was online Wednesday, April 23 at 2 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 washingtonpost.com. He's also the author of "National Pastime: Sports, Politics, and the Return of Baseball to Washington, D.C."

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Barry Svrluga: Hello, folks. Would like to say I'm coming to you live from Nationals Park, but media parking's not open yet (I know, Stan, take Metro) so I'm sitting here at home and will scoot to the ballpark as soon as we're done chatting.

A beautiful night for baseball, no? And at least the Nationals were able to board their plane last night not in complete misery. Chad Cordero is having his appointment with Dr. James Andrews right now, so if I get an update by the end of the chat, I'll let you know. If not, check back on Nationals Journal later in the day.

All right, let's chat.

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Bethesda, Md.: Barry, thanks for the great coverage, as always. With another AAA strong start last night, what is your predicted ETA for Balester landing in the Nats' rotation?

Barry Svrluga: Thank you, Bethesda.

Collin Balester gave up three runs in six innings last night for Class AAA Columbus. He's now 1-1 with a 2.66 ERA with 19 strikeouts in 20-1/3 innings, allowing only 20 base runners in that time.

When will the organization's top pitching prospect arrive? Hard to say. Say Shawn Hill goes down in his next start. Would the Nationals turn right to Balester, or to, say, lefty Mike O'Connor, who is 2-0 with a 1.96 ERA? And remember, Jason Bergmann is down there as well.

I believe we will see Balester this year. But I also believe that once he arrives, he'll be here to stay. I don't think he'll come in a stop-gap situation.

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Blacksburg, Va.: Barry,

Can you remind everyone out there who is calling for Manny and Bowden's heads that the play this season is supposed to be bad. This team is not supposed to compete until 2010 at the EARLIEST. Could you remind them that the expectations to lose 120 games last year were not far fetched and that this team could easily lose 100 games this year AND IT WOULD BE FOLLOWING THE PLAN.

This is the plan that ownership has set in place. This is a good plan that could very will bring us division titles, playoff appearances, all star players, and world series rings.

Could you remind them of these things, tell them that if they don't like the team on the field to let it be. They don't have to go to games (and most don't) they don't have to buy season tickets (and clearly they're not) and they can ignore the team completely until they turn it all around. They're welcome to hop back on the bandwagon in a few years when the team can make a run (as I shamelessly did with the Caps this year and the Wizards in 2005).

But please could you ask them to stop calling for people to be hired or fired because that's what derails a fragile process like rebuilding and makes all of these hard years a waste. If they don't like watching a team lose every once in a while (or more often sometimes) then tell them to play Playstation and hit the reset button at every loss, or worse, to watch the Yankees and Red Sox.

Barry Svrluga: Greetings, Blacksburg. (But are you sure you're not Stan? You sound like Stan (other than the "don't buy tickets" part.)

I understand where you're coming from, Blacksburg, and yes, you have some reasonable points. This team wasn't built to contend for a division title.

However, I also understand the concern. Some top officials -- GM Jim Bowden included -- believed this team could win more than it lost if things fell into place. Well, not only have things not fallen into place (injuries to Pena, Dukes, Cordero, Hill, Young, Lo Duca), but they've turned the other way.

I don't think even the number of losses is what has most people concerned. Rather, it's the style of them. Too many bone-headed plays in the field and on the bases.

Fire people? Doubtful. But it's worth noting how and why this team is losing games.

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Washington, D.C.: The Caps are out of the playoffs. The Wizards are as close to out as you can be after two games and they are on an off day. The NFL Draft is days away. Chad Johnson is still not a Redskin. The weather is beautiful. The Nats are coming off a win. The Mets are rolling into town with the best pitcher walking the planet. Please tell me attendance will not be a topic tomorrow.

Barry Svrluga: Can make no such promises, my friend. But I would say this: I'd be shocked if there weren't healthy crowds starting tonight through the weekend. The Mets and Cubs are both excellent draws.

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(by way of) Minneapolis: Any word on Nick's socks?

Barry Svrluga: Oh, yes, Mpls, I did ask him.

Johnson had always worn his socks high since his days in the Yankee organization. When I asked him why he changed, he said he could never find pants before that didn't bother him when he pulled them all the way down. They grabbed him around his knees and just didn't feel right.

Now, he's found some pants that fit right. However, it drives his mother crazy. She prefers the old-school, high-socked look.

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Fairfax, Va.: Detwiller only threw .2 innings today, do you know what happend??

Barry Svrluga: I do not, but will find out.

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Washington, D.C.: It's no secret the team had been looking to deal Cordero. How much blame should be placed on Bowden for asking for too much, perhaps being too patient, and ultimately getting nothing?

Barry Svrluga: I don't know that Bowden could have been expected to envision Cordero's current arm problems. None of us saw that coming. However, as I've said a million times before, I always thought there was a fundamental problem with the Nationals dealing Cordero. They were selling him as a closer, and thus wanted a return that you'd get for a closer. Other clubs were buying a setup man, and wouldn't give up a closer's cost for that.

Does Bowden "ask for the moon," as people always say? Yes he does, and he does not apologize for it even as he knows it opens him up for criticism. But I don't think folks should pretend he should've seen Cordero's injury problems on the horizon.

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Harpers Ferry, W.V.: It's getting to be painful to watch the Nats. You almost have to hope the opposing pitcher walks runners in or throws a wild pitch because the Nats sure aren't going to knock them in. Is this the worst offensive major league team you've ever witnessed?

Barry Svrluga: For 20 games? I don't think so. Last year's start was pretty darn bad. Nook Logan? Yikes. And during the skid in August 2005, the Nationals couldn't do anything, either.

This is going to sound weird -- something I'm not afraid of -- but they really miss Paul Lo Duca, who at least could move runners over, etc. And Wily Mo Pena was called up too quickly. He needed more time. I think last night's game shows that Willie Harris might have been OK in left given what they're getting from WMP right now.

In terms of the offense, I still think it's early. In terms of the overall play, I think it needs to improve -- and fast.

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Re: Nick Johnson: Barry,

When you ask Nick Johnson about his pants does he express any sort of surprise, or have any reaction that you or a reader/fan noticed something so trivial? (And by trivial, I mean no disrespect!!) I would think it would amuse him and flatter him a bit at the same time.

Barry Svrluga: I am here merely to amuse and flatter Nick, believe me.

No, I'm around these guys enough that I'm supposed to notice that stuff, like when Zimmerman wears his socks high for day games, etc. I actually can't believe it took me 20 games to ask him about it.

And yes, he smiled when I asked.

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Nats lifer: Barry - Two questions about Manny:

- Is part of his attitude a carryover from being a minor league manager - focused on teaching and not enough on winning?

- I read in one of the posts that he was chewing out Belliard for something. I watch a fair amount of the games on TV and I've never seen him doing anything but sitting quietly next to St. Clair. What level of interaction (and when) does he have with his players?

Thanks for all you do.

Barry Svrluga: 1. While Acta has a solid base of teaching from his days as a minor league manager, I don't think his teach-first attitude now is a result of that. As he said in today's paper, considering what the Nationals are trying to do, he wants to develop his younger players -- Lannan, in this case -- so that they can be part of a winning team in the future. He has bought into the plan that the front office sold him on the way in.

2. I did not see him chewing out Belliard. However, I did hear that he raised his voice in the dugout once on the road trip, really getting into it. This is unusual for him. As he says, he doesn't think him throwing bats or chairs or anything is going to help his team win games. He has lots of interaction with his players during batting practice and when they're taking infield, often chatting guys up and having them chat back.

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Virginia: What do you make of Felipe's surge in attitude and performance? Will it last?

Barry Svrluga: The first part is easy: He seems to be seizing an opportunity and actually showing some of his talent. The second part: Nearly impossible to say.

What's surprised me more is that Ronnie Belliard played so poorly out of the gate. I really thought he was a rock in spring training, but he hasn't hit (.214) nor played well in the field. I think he will be a better bench player than Lopez, however.

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Washington, D.C.: What do you think are the odds that Cashman might become the next GM for the Nats given the latest brouhaha by Yankees ownership? I am not a fan of Bowden's strategy of building the team by acquiring (talented) cast-offs of questionable character from other teams, and would like to see a guy with local roots (Georgetown Prep and Catholic University) get a shot here.

Barry Svrluga: This has been a topic of conversation since the fall of 2004, when baseball returned to Washington. If you asked Jim Bowden in spring 2005 whether he would be the GM of the Nationals in spring 2008, I doubt he could have honestly answered, "Yes."

That said, Cashman is currently employed. Bowden is, too, and he has a fantastic relationship with Mark Lerner, son of managing general partner Ted. If I'm a betting man, I bet Bowden outlasts a lot of people in the Nationals organization.

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Washington, D.C.: Assuming that Perez and Redding will be gone by the time of the Nationals' future Glory Years, which member of this year's rotation would you rate as most likely to still be here and pitching in the World Series circa 2011: Bergmann, Chico, Hill, or Lannan? Or none of the above?

Barry Svrluga: Well, I'll go with the flavor of the last 24 hours -- John Lannan. But I think this is solid analysis. Remember, I love Shawn Hill's stuff, but history doesn't tell us he's going to be healthy for the next three years. I agree with Acta that Chico is gritty and can mentally withstand getting his brains beat in, but he has not been able to consistently command the ball, and it leads to too many disastrous starts. Bergmann's in the minors now not because of ability but because of a mental inability to get out of his own way.

That leaves Lannan, whose teammates like the way he is not fazed by things. He's developing this back-door slider that he's using to right-handers, and last night threw far fewer curveballs than he did against the Mets, a night when his fastball command wasn't as good. What does this tell you? He can adjust to what he has on a given night, and he's tough. At 23, there's a lot to like there.

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Burke, Va.: Hi Barry,

I thought the comment made by another team's scout you mentioned in the Journal about Zimmerman was spot on. The Nats have put the burden on him of being this team's star and 'face of the franchise' and he's not ready to be a star yet. Not a knock, just fact. They should just let the guy develop without having to carry that baggage around.

Hindsight being 20-20, do you think the Nats would make the LoDuca/Milledge trade again if they had to do it all over again? I am sorry, but LoDuca ain't as good as Schneider. Maybe Milledge will turn out to be worth it alone, but I am not sure.

Barry Svrluga: Remember, Lo Duca was a free agent, Milledge was the trade. And yes, after 20 games, I believe the Nationals would make the trade again because of Milledge's long-term potential. Has he made some ridiculously bad plays thus far? No question. Would some teammates like him to show up a bit earlier and perhaps with a bit more focus? Yes. But he turned 23 earlier this month, and he clearly is talented. The trade was about the future, not about the first 20 games of this season.

(A scout did tell me about Schneider, "He's good on that club. He can be a good player on a good team, but he can't be a good player on a bad team, because then you're asking him to do too much." See Chavez, Endy.)

Zimmerman: I'm going to write more about him in coming days. We'll see if that two-run double last night gets him going.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Do you think Austin Kearns is coming out of his slump?

Barry Svrluga: Hard to say. When I asked him how he felt the other day, he said, "I've felt worse. I feel like I have a chance." And he has shown some signs of driving the ball. But the days of thinking he's going to hit 30 homers should be long gone. Does he believe he should produce more than he is right now, or more than he did last year (16 HRs, 74 RBI)? Yep. But history doesn't show us that he's a 30-100 guy, and next year, he makes $9 million.

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Richmond, Va.: I read in the NY paper that some felt the Mets were "showing up" Willie Randolph when the Mets' top brass schmoozed with Manny for a lengthy period of time during the Mets BP. Is there anything to this story?

Barry Svrluga: Sure there is. I wrote about it last year. Manny Acta has a very good relationship with lots of the Mets front office folks, from GM Omar Minaya (who brought him over from Montreal) to Jeff Wilpon to assistant GM Tony Bernazard. Bernazard, in particular, is a huge fan of Acta, and he spent lots of time hanging out with Acta near the batting cage and even in the visiting manager's office.

Acta, of course, is very friendly and outgoing and is very appreciative of all the people that helped get him where he is today. But for Randolph, it was awkward last year, because the Mets were collapsing and it played out publicly like the front office preferred the guy who left them rather than the guy they had. With that backdrop, I know the New York writers noticed it last week -- and I believe David Lennon of Newsday bounced it off Randolph, who admitted he was not pleased with the fraternization.

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Twinbrook, Md.: Barry,

Am I wrong to think 3B Coach Tim Tolman should be replaced? How many more runs does he need to cost the team before this happens?

Barry Svrluga: There were two runners thrown out at the plate the other night. The first one was with two outs in the first inning against Tim Hudson. You gotta put the pressure on the fielder to make that play, and in this case, Jeff Francoeur made it.

But the second one falls on Tolman, and he knows it. He tossed and turned about it. There was only one out and the ball was in the short outfield. Yunel Escobar (a budding star) picked it up and threw out the runner at the plate at a time when the Nationals trailed, I believe, 6-0.

I believe Tolman is being watched.

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Kensington, Md.: Good afternoon -- thank you for your time and insight. Given the pitching ups and downs over time, is anyone starting to question St. Claire's abilities?

To anyone who hasn't taken the tour of Nationals Park, it is well worth it. Sitting in the dugout and pitching in the bullpen are highlights!

Barry Svrluga: Oh my goodness, are you kidding? No. No one is questioning St. Claire. Given what he's had to work with, a scout said to me -- I believe four days ago -- "You know who the MVP of that team is? Randy St. Claire. And I've told my bosses that."

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Navy Yard: There is no reason the Nats could not go out and get some decent veterans to make this team watchable. The Lerners are just too cheap to do it. The '05 Nats weren't great but they were watchable. Serviceable ballplayers like Guillen, Castilla, Loiza and Carrasco....to name a few....were added to make the team competitive. Why not bring in some players like that while the young players develop in the farm system? The Lerners have an obligation to put a competitive team on the field. Especially in light of the $600 million gift stadium they got from D.C.

Barry Svrluga: This is obviously a popular view held by many. Let me go the other way, just to play devil's advocate: The Lerners said from Day One that they would build the scouting and farm systems first, bring up major league players through their own system, and then fill in with free agents and trades when the club could compete for a title.

Now, if they don't follow through on that last part -- if they don't sign their own young stars (hello, Ryan Zimmerman) and they don't go out and pursue specific needs when they arise (I would think they'll have to go get middle infielders, because the ones they have in the minors are a long way away) -- then there should be hell to pay.

And to your point: There is a risk of alienating potential fans by rolling out a product that is unwatchable. The problem: No one with the organization though this year's product would be unwatchable.

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Blacksburg, Va.: Do you have any word on how the organization feels about Lenny Harris's job so far? I love Lenny, but being a major league hitting coach with no previous experience at the position might put him a little over his head. Do people in the front office feel that way? If so are there any decent options out there right now?

Barry Svrluga: This is a fascinating question, and one about which I wrote in the gamer that ran in Tuesday's paper. Harris was thrust into a position last year with which he was unfamiliar. He had been a roving infield instructor in the Nationals' minor league system for just a few months and was only 18 months removed from his own playing career. Some other reporters and I had a wide-ranging interview with Harris the other day about his role as the hitting coach during a slump. He takes a very rah-rah, mental approach to hitting, an approach he had to have as one of the best pinch-hitters ever in the game. But whether that approach is translating into adjustments by the players who are slumping is something everyone in the organization is watching.

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Ashburn, Va.: The Caps seem to have had a Plan similar to the Nats (get younger, build from within, etc). But they seem farther into said Plan, and have begun delivering positive results.

How would you compare the two approaches, and where each one stands?

Barry Svrluga: I do think their plans are similar, and yes, the Caps are further along. But there's one major difference: The Capitals drafted either the best or second-best player in the NHL and built their franchise around him. The Nationals have Ryan Zimmerman, a nice player, but he is nowhere close to being the best or second-best player in the league right now.

Remember, there were dark times for the Capitals before they won a division title, even since they drafted Ovechkin. And if Carolina could have beaten Florida in the last game of the regular season, the Caps building plan would have continued without a playoff run.

The Nats are at least two years behind the Caps right now, I'd say.

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Columbus, Clippers:13 games and 46 ABs later, stats for B. Boone: .261/.327/.348/.675

Is he done with his 'experiment'? What to do with my The Boones jersey?

Barry Svrluga: He has taken a few days off but I'm told intends to return to the Clippers. How long he'll stay is anyone's guess, though. He said in spring training that he considers himself a major league player, but right now there just aren't enough major league jobs for him. At 6-15, they're going to bring up a 39-year-old second baseman to solve problems? Doubt it.

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Lenny Harris: "I believe Tolman is being watched."

Psst. Barry. Do you know if I'm being watched?

Barry Svrluga: Yes. You too.

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Burke, Va. : Barry, could you compare/contract the mood in the clubhouse during this year's lousy start vs. last year's lousy start? Looser/tighter, more optimistic or more pessimistic, etc.

Barry Svrluga: That's a great question, and a really hard one to answer. I can say that Acta's attitude was very similar in both situations. Of all the people who were upset then or are upset now, he was and is the most upbeat.

I think this one might be tougher to take for some guys, though, because the expectations last year were to be exactly this bad. This year's expectations were to improve on a better-than-expected 2007. Someone told me yesterday that some of the veteran players are starting to speak up more in this clubhouse. I'm going to look into that and see who, what, when and why.

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Ames, Iowa: Any recent updates on Cordero yet?

Thanks

Barry Svrluga: Not yet. Appointment was at 1:30 p.m. They'll likely circulate a report internally before they tell us. Watch for an update on Nationals Journal.

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Bethesda, Md.: I get the whole "plan" idea, but shouldn't your manager be trying to squeeze wins out of the club, rather than being comfortable losing with the perspective that it's all part of the plan? It seems to me that a manager so ok with losing may not be able to turn it around when it becomes winning time. I mean, it's still a competitive sport, right? Can't the fans reasonably expect all of the players and coaches to want to win every game?

Barry Svrluga: This is the fine line Acta walks. He tried to explain it the other day by saying, "Don't get me wrong. I want to win every game." But he also keeps it in perspective.

It's an interesting point. There are managers whose guts are eaten alive because they can't stand losing even one game, even when their team is clearly overmatched, as Acta's has been at times over the last couple years. Acta doesn't believe that would be a good approach for him or his young players.

But it's an interesting psychological debate.

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Section 111 (Formerly 223 @ RFK): Barry-

So when can we expect to see Collin Balester? After one more bad Matt Chico start (although we're rooting for Cheeks)? Balester is 1-1 (4 games started), 2.66 ERA, .178 OPP AVG and 19 K in 20.1 IP. He throws heat and mixes in a plus change and decent curve. Can't wait to see another Nats home grown stud pitcher reach the majors. Thanks.

Barry Svrluga: Ah, Section 111, you speak the language of scouts. ("Plus change.")

Answered above. But yes, I would say that Chico will be kept under a close watch even though Acta is really quite a supporter of him. But at some point, if they think a Balester is ready for the next step, they won't hesitate to move him, nor will they be hesitant to move a Jordan Zimmermann from Class A Potomac, where he is off to a superb start.

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Arlington, Va.: What do you think of Hanley Ramirez for Zimmerman and Milledge? This way we are solid up the middle with Ramirez, Lopez and Flores?

Barry Svrluga: If I'm Jim Bowden, I love it (though I don't know that "Lopez" and "solid up the middle" really go together).

This is not a knock on Zimmerman or Milledge. But Hanley Ramirez may be the best player in the National League. I'm not kidding. He is going to be a force for the next 10 years and maybe more. Just absolutely scalds the ball, and his defense is improving as well.

Marlins would never do that deal. They have Cameron Maybin to play center (a position for which Milledge may be ill-suited, anyway) and tons of corner outfielders. Everyone in the NL East likes Zimmerman. But everyone in baseball LOVES Hanley.

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Re: Cheap Lerners: Every chat there is at least one post that refers to the Lerners as cheap. Barry, what evidence is there to support that charge? Not signing "serviceable" free agents as a stopgap? The 2005 team drew because it was the first year and they got incredibly (and I mean incredible in its true sense) hot at the beginning of the season. Not because MLB opened its treasury vault to sign Guillen and Vinnie. Two Buck Chuck Wine is cheap, not the Lerners.

Barry Svrluga: I think the evidence, as it is, to this point came first from foxsports.com's Ken Rosenthal last year as the Lerners were adjusting to becoming major league owners. They have very strict policies on how they run their businesses -- be they malls or baseball teams -- and that rubbed baseball people the wrong way. They want their employees to get the best price for services, don't want to use FedEx if the postal service is just as efficient, and took the District to arbitration over some small stuff that included who should pay for uniforms at the new ballpark.

What happens, I think, is that the two areas get confused. The baseball strategy for the Lerners and the Nationals has been to build from within (I've written that like eight million times) and not sign free agents, even ones like Livan Hernandez, etc., until they're really ready to win. But when people hear about penny-pinching in other areas, they believe it will translate over to the field as well. Only time will tell whether the club will increase payroll as it says it will.

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Worst Nats Team Ever?: Hi Barry, love the chats!

Just wondering where you would rank this year's squad relative to other years in the Nats short history.

I'd vote for this year being the worst. On paper, maybe we upgraded slightly from last year but we aren't close performance-wise to the team's play in the last half of last season. Whatever chemistry we had seems gone -- it certainly doesn't feel like we're building much of anything right now.

Now, the team from the first half '05 . . . man, those were the days!

Barry Svrluga: Easy now. While I'm not going to dismiss the poor start to the season as just a fluke, I'm also not going to draw conclusions about the 2008 team without some more evidence. Remember, last year's team was 9-25 and looked horrendous -- and then played .500 ball the rest of the way. This year's team would have to go 3-10 to get to 9-25 (an accomplishment they obviously could achieve), but I still believe this year's team is better.

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Alexandria, Va.: Wily Mo is crying? Good.

Maybe it's empathy -- because I have to cry when I watch him hit. He cannot tell the difference between a ball and a strike.

Has any suggested Lasik to him? Or perhaps not swinging at every pitch like he's trying to hit it to Kuala Lumpur?

Barry Svrluga: Yes, lots of people have suggested lots of things to Pena from the time he was in the minors. The Nationals' strategy this year was actually going to be somewhat hands-off, just let him go out and get 500 at-bats and see what he did with them, see if exposure to everything on a consistent basis would allow him to figure it out. His injury in spring training slowed that, but at the time, it seemed okay for the club because they'd at least get to find out about Elijah Dukes. But then Dukes injured himself on Opening Night, and the team wasn't able to find out about either of them for the first two weeks. Then the team struggled offensively and called up Pena before he was ready.

So that leaves you with a hulking left fielder crying because he's 3 for 30 with 10 Ks. Ouch.

(I bet he's back in the lineup tonight against the left-handed Santana.)

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Nats Fan In KC: The plan, "The Plan," "Stan's Plan" - however you phrase it is still equals losing. As we get deeper into the Plan and I get deeper into a depression over this team I am starting to wonder if such a drastic plan was a wise choice. DC is a fickle place with lots of people who are not from the area. Plus the team had no roots in the area at all to begin with. Build-A-Bears, Playgrounds, and a shiny new park are not going to get people to invest in this team... Tell me I am being too gloomy and that there is hope somewhere up ahead. PLEASE!

Barry Svrluga: You're not the first fan to take that approach, nor will you be the last. Believing in the plan requires faith in the people who are orchestrating it. I am here neither to endorse nor pooh-pooh that.

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Barry Svrluga: Folks, you're the best. Thanks for stopping by. An 11-game homestand -- longest of the year -- awaits. I've got to jet to Nationals Park here right quick, leaving many unanswered questions.

Thanks again, and I'll talk to you next week from Nationals Park. See you out there, and enjoy the games.

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