Wednesday, April 30, at 3 p.m. ET

Washington Nationals

Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 30, 2008; 3:00 PM

Washington Post writer Barry Svrluga was online Wednesday, April 30 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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washingtonpost.com: Barry will be joining the discussion shortly.

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Barry Svrluga: Sorry I'm late folks. Lots of news out here at Nationals Park. The crux: Chad Cordero is out four to six weeks with a torn lat muscle in his right shoulder. That estimate could be conservative.

A 4:35 p.m. start today. I'll take you right up to gametime. Again, apologies for being late.

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Washington, D.C.: As we head into May, the NL East looks much more wide open than it did heading into the season, does it not? Too bad the Nats had such a disastrous few weeks.

Barry Svrluga: This is an interesting take. Yes, the Mets, Phillies and Braves all seem fallible. And yes, the Nats, with a better start, could have looked like the Orioles or Rays of the AL East -- which is to say, an early-season tease.

But I also think, with the Nationals, the long view is the most realistic. Yes, the start was disappointing, and they're playing better now, and you can play "what-if," but this team isn't built to be a contender this season.

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Lourdes, France: Is Cristian Guzman hitting .307 a bona fide miracle? How long do we have to see the Miracle at the Navy Yard?

Barry Svrluga: Cristian Guzman is an interesting case. The cynic would say that this is just temporary and he'll come back to earth. The optimist would say that his Lasik surgery of more than a year ago, and his record in 40-something games last year, would indicate that now that he can see the ball, he can hit the ball (he just can't take pitches).

There is no way that Guzman is as bad as his .219 average from 2005. Is he this good? His record doesn't suggest it, but then again, maybe he was guessing where the ball was in the past.

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Arlington, Va.: What is the reason that Kearns is not in danger of losing his job?

Barry Svrluga: Manager Manny Acta and GM Jim Bowden are both believers in Kearns. They like how he plays right field, and even though I think his defense has not been what it normally is this year, he is generally one of the better right fielders in the game. They also believe that he's one of those guys that needs to play every day to be consistent.

That said, the other options right now -- Rob Mackowiak and Willie Harris -- are not that appealing. Things could change when Elijah Dukes returns. If Dukes, Wily Mo Pena and Lastings Milledge were all hot at the same time, and Kearns was still struggling, maybe there would be a change. But Kearns also has status in the clubhouse as something of a leader, so any change would be weighed very carefully -- and would involve the performances of more players than just Kearns himself.

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Reston, Va.: Barry: If only informally, is Lannan becoming something like an ace for this staff? I know that sounds stupid since he's a rookie, but given the way he's pitching, he's the one guy who might be able to provide the team confidence before they take the field that they can get a win that day, even when they're not playing well (case in point: last week). How important is this guy right now?

Barry Svrluga: Easy now. (And remember, now, this is coming from the guy who mentioned Walter Johnson and John Lannan together in his game story the other day.)

Is Lannan pitching well? Absolutely. Is he the staff ace? No. I don't think this team has truly had an ace since Livan Hernandez in the first half of 2005, and maybe John Patterson in the second half of that year.

Lannan looks like he could be a part of this rotation for years to come. But if the team is going to be a contender in the future, they'd love to have two better starting pitchers than him -- at least. That would show they were truly developing a top-notch staff.

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Oakton, Va.: So if Paul LoDuca takes Chad Cordero's roster spot, who will be moved to make room for Elijah Dukes? I'm thinking Mackowiak, but I was wondering if you had any insight? BTW, when is Dukes due back? Also, how long does the team stick with a 6-man pen and 3 catchers?

Barry Svrluga: Yes, I believe the team will stick with a six-man bullpen (which is pretty normal) and three catchers when Lo Duca comes back. They don't want to lose Wil Nieves, which would almost certainly happen if they tried to send him to the minors. And most major league pens have only six relievers. If the starters go deep enough, this won't matter too much, particularly because Joel Hanrahan, Jesus Colome and Mike O'Connor could all pitch multiple innings. But Jim Bowden said just now that the next move will be determined both by what Lo Duca does in his rehab assignment tonight and what happens with the major league club today.

Dukes: He won't be rushed back. They want to make sure he has his timing back. "We're not going to make the same mistake we made with Wily Mo," Bowden said, meaning rushing him back before he's ready. I'd say we're more than a week from seeing him.

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Hyattsville, Md.: When Dukes comes back, who's starting job is in more danger, Kearns or Pena? With the production we've had from the corner OF slots it's a small miracle we've won 10 games.

Barry Svrluga: Keep in mind: Dukes entered the season as the fourth outfielder. I think he comes back as such, and will spell both those players on occasion. Pena is starting to hit some (though he's out of the lineup today.)

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Shenandoah Valley: I will be attending the Pirates game on Saturday. I have not seen the new stadium and need some pointers. SEATS in the 5-24 buck range. What sections give the best view of the entire field? Also, are the Nats/Tickets.com still doing service charges and an extra convenience charge for tickets and the ability to print them off the computer? If so, I'll take my chances at the gate. That dreck needs to come to an end.

Barry Svrluga: I'll ask other readers for thoughts on this. I haven't been to a game as a fan yet, and though I've wandered through lots of sections, it's generally been not during game time.

Thoughts, folks?

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TerraNatsa: can't believe I'm suggesting this, but here are Ryan Langerhans numbers this year in Columbus;

.302/.436/.430/.867 2HR 5Doubles 21BB 20K

anyone else think that looks a lot better than what Mackowiak and Harris are doing as Lefty Bench outfielders?

Barry Svrluga: Very interesting. I think Langerhans would be an excellent fifth outfielder on a good team. And right now, I don't think Harris should be/will be replaced. He's versatile enough that he can play middle infield (though he hasn't yet) and is a defensive replacement in left field for WMP.

Mackowiak is another story. He missed most of spring training, too, and can't find his swing. He's frustrated by the lack of playing time, but his performance isn't showing that he deserves to play. He could be expendable if the Nats decide they can eat his $1.5M guaranteed deal.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Wondering after Zimmerman's awakening last night, if you'd be so kind as to write about Nick's struggles!

re:Shenandoah

I find the section 300 seats in the infield gallery to be well worth the 18-20 bucks I've paid. Those around home plate and up the 1B line even afford a view of the Capitol. However, Tickets.com does hit you for all sorts of extra fees including the outrageous charge to use your own valuable ink to print these things!

Barry Svrluga: Yeah I've heard from lots of people about how Zimmerman broke out after I wrote about him. I had a note the other day about Kearns's struggles? Is that good enough? (He hit the ball hard last night, including on a double to right-center.) And Johnson homered. That's not good enough?

I'll make a deal with Zimmerman. Have him go 0 for 4 on Opening Day next year. I'll float in, write a "will Zimmerman ever get it?" story, and he'll be the MVP.

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Scouts at Nats Park: So where do the scouts sit at Nats Park? If I remember correctly, in Atlanta, they sit pretty close to home plate. I can't imagine Kasten and Co. would let them occupy the $300 seats.

Barry Svrluga: You know, I literally 15 minutes ago was talking to a scout here and he said the scout seats here are a little high and a little off-center, so they're not sure they can get good, consistently accurate radar gun readings. They're also not sure the Nationals gun that shows up on the scoreboard is accurate.

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Capitol Hill: Barry, can you do an article on Kearns now? Looks like it worked for Zim.

Barry Svrluga: Coming next off day: The Life and Times of Austin Kearns.

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Springfield, Va.: Anything in sections 408, 409, 410, 416, 417 & 418 meets your criteria. Great seats, great price, great view! Yes, you still have to pay the stupid convenience fee for online purchases... sorry!

Barry Svrluga: More advice. Seems pretty good.

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9:30 Club: Are you and Sheinin able to make the Drive By Truckers at 9:30 Club next weekend? The Nats are at home but I'm sure one of you is due for a night off.

Barry Svrluga: Thank you for caring, 9:30. Yes, I will attend the Saturday show. Sheinin is planning on that one, too, but being a daddy (and don't think little Lucinda Sheinin doesn't have a Drive-By Truckers onesy), he's currently working on arrangements.

Killing me not to be able to go to both shows.

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Harpers Ferry, W.V.: Things are starting to go the Nationals way as of late. The starting pitching is looking really good with one exception, Matt Chico. He looks awful. How short a leash is he on?

Barry Svrluga: Interesting you ask. I was just talking to pitching coach Randy St. Claire about Chico (and other things), and he said, "He'll battle back. Last year, he always did." He also said that Chico threw exceptionally well in his bullpen session today. "He's pressing," St. Claire said. They're going to run him out there again.

That said, there's a few things to watch. Jason Bergmann threw eight innings of four-hit ball last night for Class AAA Columbus, his first good start since he got down there. GM Jim Bowden indicated it could have been an important start. He's a major league pitcher. He should be in the majors.

Also, the stud on the rise now is Cory Van Allen, who threw seven innings of one-hit ball for Class A Potomac yesterday. He's now 3-0 with a 0.66 ERA with 19 strikeouts and seven walks in 27-1/3 innings. He was promoted to Class AA Harrisburg today. We could see him at some point, too. (July?)

(Think the competition within the organization is better now than it was even at this point last year? I mean, I haven't even mentioned Collin Balester, who Bowden says is now throwing 94.)

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Trade rumors are our friends: Taken a look at NYY lately? That team could use quality bullpen help, a lefty 1st baseman, maybe a catcher if Posada is out any length of time, has a blocked middle infielder near major league ready, and a few assets lower in the minors. As a loyal Red Sox fan, I implore you to tell Bowden not to talk to Cashman.

Barry Svrluga: This would not surprise me in the least. These two teams have dealt as recently as this offseason (Jonathan Albaladejo for Tyler Clippard). I've bounced the Nick Johnson to NY off a few people, and they think there's a fit there. Wil Nieves played for the Yankees last year, and in that kind of lineup, he could survive because they don't need lots of offense.

A good instinct on your part.

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Section 407: Barry,

I love Randy St. Claire and no pitching coach has done more with less in recent years than him. But doesn't it seem that one of the hallmarks of his pitchers is extraordinarily high pitch counts? It already doomed Patterson (he had high counts even when he was dominating in '05) and Chico seems to be heading down that road already. The only exception to the rule seemed to be Loiza, but he's not around anymore. Any thoughts on this?

Barry Svrluga: I think you're right, but I think this is the fault of the pitchers, not St. Claire. It drives him crazy when they don't attack the zone. Yes, it's a problem, and it has been a problem since 2005. But they haven't exactly had a cast of all-star pitchers here in that time, either.

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Zimmerman, D.C.: I personally don't feel like Zimmerman is in much of a slump. I see him as a .250/20/85 player. If he's the face and future of the franchise, the Nationals are in trouble.

Barry Svrluga: That is another possibility, no doubt. And it's possible in the long-term, he won't be the club's best player. But I don't think anyone currently in the organization believes those will be his numbers. He's already gone 20/110 and 24/91, and his career average is .277. I don't think people expect him to go backwards.

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Washington, D.C. : Barry - Heard Feinstein on the Kornheiser show this morning pumping his book, and he was talking about a relationship Mussina formed with Nieves last year. It reminded me of the comments Lannan made about him, so I looked up Mussina's 2007 numbers with Nieves.

Batters hit .266/.305/.385 against him vs. .342/.384/.522 when Posada was behind the plate.

Mussina also notched 5 more strikeouts, 4 fewer walks, and gave up 36 fewer hits with Nieves despite facing 53 fewer batters with him.

Are we just lucky that Lannan has some chemistry with Nieves, or is Nieves unlucky he hasn't really had the opportunity to work full time with a complete staff?

Barry Svrluga: The only thing that has held Nieves back is his bat. "He's a tremendous catch-and-throw guy," Manny Acta said, and he's right. The staff loves throwing to him.

Nieves, it seems to me after viewing him for just a couple months (including spring), would be a perfect backup catcher on a good team. He also is a very positive guy in the clubhouse, plays with emotion, knows his role, etc.

Feinstein was out here the other week. I asked why he was here. He said, "To see the park." I said, "Buy a ticket." He looked at me like I had five heads.

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Barry Svrluga: First of all, if my answers seem convoluted, it is because CLINT IS SCREAMING AT ME FROM THE SCOREBOARD IN CENTER FIELD ABOUT HOW HE HAS A WHOLE BUNCH OF NATS FANS WITH HIM AND THEY'RE READY TO SEE ANOTHER WIN AND MAN IT'S GOING TO BE EXCITING AND HE'LL BE BACK IN A LITTLE BIT.

Oh, my head.

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Seats: Seriously, section 418? I paid $18 for seats in the last row. Just one part of my horrible first visit to Nationals Park next week. Never thought I would say this but: Metro was the best part of the trip last Wednesday night.

Barry Svrluga: Wow. Ouch.

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Springfield, Va.: Um... Bergmann? Jason Bermann??!? Ten batters, 7 runs allowed -- in one inning -- Bergmann?!!?! Yeah, he's got some wicked stuff, sometimes ... but when he blows up, he really blows up! Is he for-sure starter material? Seems like he could be great in a 1-to-2 inning middle or long relief situation, but he seems to regularly self-destruct after more than 3 or 4 innings. Am I wrong here?

Barry Svrluga: I'm saying that stuff-wise, he's good enough to compete up here. But you've got a good thought. Remember, Bergmann came up as a reliever, and it's not impossible to think about him going back there.

But for pure stuff, he probably has the second-best in the current rotation (after Shawn Hill, because of the sinker). He just needs to mentally sort himself out.

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Sec 114, Row E: LoDuca, Estrada and Nieves.

Clearly, Wil Nieves is a fan favorite. And looking at Cathers ERA, the pitchers seem to like throwing to him. Previous to his stint with the Nats, he hasn't shown much with the stick, but in his small sample, he's putting it all together.

When LoDuca returns from his rehab stint, who gets sent packing? At $5m it cannot be LoDuca, even if he cannot throw anyone out. At 850K, Estrada seems possible.

Is there a scenario were Nieves stays?

Barry Svrluga: Estrada is $1.25M, not $850K. But I think I described the scenario above. Nieves could stay in the short-term if they activate Lo Duca when they DL Cordero (a move that has not happened yet).

Estrada then takes the Dmitri Young role off the bench, a switch-hitting pinch hitter. Young, by the way, is not progressing, according to GM Jim Bowden. He's likely headed to the Mayo Clinic (the May O'Clinic?) in Rochester, Minn., for yet another opinion on his ailing back.

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Capitol Hill: What's up with the scoreboard operator? Inning after inning we get a player's biography instead of his hitting statistics or his previous at-bats, and often it's the wrong player. At RFK, I assumed nobody cared, but the Lerners are said to be detail-oriented.

Barry Svrluga: You're totally totally right. However, in batting practice, it looked like they were tweaking with some new layouts for the scoreboard. I think they're much more promising. They had both lineups on there with the pitcher's stats and the batter's stats.

Hopefully they debut today. Looked much, much better and had much better information.

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Rushmores: Did Teddy's win the other day get marked with an asterisk? Or was it expunged off the record completely?

Barry Svrluga: No Teddy official win. He was DQed for cutting across the outfield grass.

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Sec. 320: It really hurts seeing the Chief trying get himself right, were there any signs in Viera that something was amiss?

Barry Svrluga: Indeed there were signs there. It's a strange setup in the spring in that reporters generally head to the clubhouse after the starting pitcher comes out and start to talk to people then, usually missing the ends of games. Therefore, I don't even know if I saw Cordero throw more than 10 pitches all spring. However, late in spring, a scout told me he hadn't seen him break 87 mph all spring, and wondered what was going on. I asked about it shortly thereafter, and, well ... here we are.

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Arlington, Va.: Belliard, Lo Duca, Estrada, Kearns, Pena, Harris, Mackowiak -- all are hitting around the Mendoza Line. Who is the first to separate himself?

Barry Svrluga: Well, as president of the local chapter of the Austin Kearns Apologists Club (meetings every other Tuesday, the Tune Inn), I'll go with Kearns. After that, I'll take Belliard (though he's not playing very much at all).

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Bethesda, Md.: A tip for knish eaters, I got one before the game started last night and it was perfect. Usually if I get them during the game I have to wait and they are either overcooked or not cooked enough. Just thought I'd give everyone a heads up.

Barry Svrluga: Svrluga Chat Readers. Knish Eaters of America. Not sure what the overlap is there, but thank you for addressing it.

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Re: 418: Don't believe that other guy. Section 418 has a good view and has it's own "commentator" who sits in the front row and announces (into his score-keeping pen) the starting line-ups and late game changes for everyone to hear. He's great fun!

Barry Svrluga: Another perspective.

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Section 219: Did Ronnie kick Manny's dog? What's the deal with Belliard not getting any playing time? Are we missing something?

Barry Svrluga: I think Acta is going with the hot hand in Lopez. I also think the bench sets up better with Belliard on it than it did with Lopez. Belliard is a seasoned pro who can handle the bench role. Lopez could not.

The way things work out, I would be surprised if we didn't see Belliard start a game before the end of the homestand.

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Loogyland, Md.: Barry, I realize relievers like to know their roles and every team nowadays must have a closer as a matter of course, but I'm disappointed that Rauch has been planted in the closer role without much of a second thought. He's valuable as a heavy-duty reliever, and by placing him in the closer role, it seems like Acta is cutting off some of his value. The starters have put in some good performances (especially Lannan of late), but they don't really pitch deep into games and the 'pen needs all the good work it can get. I know Manny has the reputation for being into the 'analytical' stuff, and many of the sabermetric analysts say your garden-variety closer is misused in that role. Is Rauch locked into the modern closer role now, or is there any chance Manny works Rauch back into service at critical points not necessarily confined to the ninth?

Barry Svrluga: This is a good analysis, and I think it's possible you could see Rauch in the eighth inning -- possible, not probable -- in a certain situation. Say, for instance, if the eighth inning of a one-run game brought up some tough left-handed hitters. Luis Ayala has an awful record against left-handed hitters throughout his career. If the more important part of the order is up then, it's possible Rauch could be used then, and Ayala in the ninth.

Acta thinks about this kind of thing, no doubt.

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Alexandria, Va.: Cubs and Mets fans seemed to outnumber Nats fans at the ballpark this past week. The Orioles have the same problem when the Yanks or the Sox are in town. Is this a problem unique to our transient area, or do other cities fill up their ballparks with fans of the opposing team?

Barry Svrluga: It happens other places. Atlanta, Phoenix, etc. Others where there are lots of people from elsewhere.

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Alexandria, Va.: What can the Nationals do to fill the presidential seats? The emptiness looks horrible on TV. Couldn't they do a lottery during game time (select random seats from those attending) after, say, the fourth inning for any empty presidential seats. They wouldn't get the free amenities and would have to go back to their seat if the actual presidential seat ticket holder showed up. Now that's what I would call giving back to the fans! What d'ya think?

Barry Svrluga: I believe you'll be reading about this in The Post sometime soon. One answer: They could lower the prices. Don't think that's going to happen. But it's striking how full the park can look live and how empty it can look on TV.

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Washington, D.C.: Are you kidding me? Cory Van Allen pitches lights out in single A, gets promoted to AA today and you are already suggesting we may see him in July? Are the Nats just trying to destroy any ounce of confidence these young pitchers earn in the minors? Other MAJOR league ball clubs will usually let a kid work his way through the minors to make sure his confidence isn't broken. See any Nats pitcher rushed through the minors the past 3 years for evidence. I say don't destroy the potential this kid may have by rushing him through the minors. Patience is what's needed with pitchers and it's apparent that fans (and management) don't particularly care who's career they step over to get to the wins.

Barry Svrluga: I'm just saying it's possible. Look at John Lannan. Started last year at Class A Potomac. Pitched six games in the majors. That helped him get to where he is today, which is with 19 straight scoreless innings.

The evaluation of these situations will have to do with stuff, numbers AND mental makeup. The team right now is very high on both Van Allen and Jordan Zimmermann. Watch them rise.

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Barry Svrluga: Folks, terribly sorry, but, um, I've got a ballgame to cover. Hope you're on your way. Shawn Hill vs. Jair Jurrjens.

Also sorry about being late. We should be back to our normal time next week. Thanks for dropping by, and enjoy the rest of the homestand.

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