Wednesday, May 7, 2 p.m. ET

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Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 7, 2008; 2:00 PM

Washington Post writer Barry Svrluga was online Wednesday, May 7 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: Greetings folks. This chat comes to you from a Starbucks at the Galleria Mall on Westheimer Rd. in Houston -- a good 20-minute drive from Minute Maid Park. Not my favorite city, Houston, but so be it.

Much about which to chat. If you're wondering how a bunch of former Nationals are doing elsewhere, check out today's entry on Nationals Journal. But for now, let's get to questions. Thanks for dropping by.

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John Sterling: Do you hate Houston because it's one of those damp humid cities that has bugs as big as animals?

Barry Svrluga: No public transportation to speak of. Sprawl that's out of control. Roads that are like those backgrounds on The Flintstones, where Fred would run and the same table and chair would be behind him like 20 times (Starbucks, Chipotle, CVS, Walgreen's, Starbucks, CVS, Chipotle, ets. Wash, rinse, repeat.)

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Section 241: Thank God Manny sat him down.

After being saddled with "The Face of the Franchise" and knowing that Nationals' Park is "The House That Zim Built" (and yes, the free program offered as you enter the stadium really did feature that headline under its cover photo of Spanky), the last thing that Zimmerman needed was to build any Ripken fantasies into his self-image.

Wait; it would help if he realized he's hitting like BILLY Ripken.

Do you think that Acta and Bowden and Stan the Man realized that they used their PR machine to dump just a little too much on the kid?

Barry Svrluga: That's an interesting take, and definitely a possiblity. But I still think the franchise believes in, well, the franchise. Zimmerman may not be a three-hole hitter long-term, but I think all the evaluators in the organization believes he'll either hit third or fifth.

His slow starts are interesting, though, and he's not making the necessary adjustments. This is something he's going to have to do to get better. Last night, he finally drove a ball with authority to left-center. To my mind, he's been hitting too many balls to right. You want to make sure he CAN go that way if they pitch him outside, which is what they do right now. But his power is really to center and left of that. He's got to remind himself that it's okay to pull the ball on the few occasions he gets a pitch on the inside half of the plate.

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washingtonpost.com: The one that got away -- and Where are they now? ( Nationals Journal, May 7)

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Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: I know we're not even halfway through the season and I'm already asking free agency questions....but Boz had me thinking. How likely is it that the Nats will try and sign a Furcal/OHudson or both this offseason? And is it realistic to go after SP like Sabathia/Sheets given the obscene price of pitching?

Barry Svrluga: I think the Nationals will get involved on one or more -- or even all -- of these names. Boz did not pull them out of thin air. But keep in mind: Entering into negotiations and saying you have interest are quite different than actually signing the players. The biggest check usually wins those derbies. Will the biggest check be signed by Theodore N. Lerner?

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Cheltenham, Md.: Hi Barry, thanks for taking my question. You may have answered this before, but I'm wondering what happened to the spinning baseball that was supposed to be on top of the Red Porch restaurant in the new stadium? Has it been scrapped? Will anything replace it? Thanks!

Barry Svrluga: My understanding of the giant baseball is that they thought it was too much, too tacky, in the end. I could be wrong about that, and I'll double-check.

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Washington, D.C.: What's your view of Jim Bowden? Seems like if Stan Kasten is "architect" of The Plan, then Jimbo is the "general contractor." Is he the right guy for the job? Doesn't seem like his history of churning a lot of former Reds through town is the way to go. Is he capable of thinking big and really bringing in quality players? I have my doubts.

Barry Svrluga: Bowden is several things, but one of them is very, very bright. The guy is a furiously fast thinker, and I think even his detractors in the game -- and he has several -- would grant that he is creative in his thinking.

I would say two things: Look at the list of players the Nationals have let get away over the past few years, since Bowden came into the job. Are there really big mistakes there?

And secondly, I'd be fascinated to find out how Bowden would do with a truly competitive budget. He's never had one, not here, not in Cincinnati. That would help give us a complete picture.

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Bethesda, Md.: Barry --

Boz wrote yesterday that the Nats could go after 4 top-tier free agents and still be around $85 million. Now we all know it's not going to happen, but do you see the Nats going after 1 top guy? I assume the company line is going to be that they're not 1 player away, but the fans know that the Nats are making a ton of money. I don't think goodwill goes beyond this year.

washingtonpost.com: Identifying The Core ( Post, May 6)

Barry Svrluga: This will be a very interesting thing to chart. They keep claiming they're closer to being a contender than they thought they would be. That might be true, but it can't/won't happen until they sign top-tier guys like Sabathia. (Sheets, Hudson and even Furcal don't quite qualify.)

Kasten is on the record as thinking free agents are his least-favorite way to build a team. But they have to increase payroll somehow if they're going to be competitive. Their best prospects are still a few years away. We have to hold their feet to the fire on getting more competitive.

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Des Peres, Mo.: Why would the Nats start Bergmann instead of O'Connor if they don't use Chico, he seems more deserving (not that deserves have anything to do with it), or even better just skip him and start Tim Redding on normal rest?

Barry Svrluga: Also a possibility. It's also possible Chico (0-5, 6.87 ERA) will start Friday on his normal turn. I'll get that news at the ballpark.

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Section 409: What's up with that fake-to-third, turn-back-to-first would-be pickoff move? I counted at least five of those by Nats pitchers last night, and I seriously think the umpire called the balk on Rivera just because he was tired of it. Are those being called from the bench? Has that move worked, ever, in the history of baseball?

Barry Svrluga: Yes, it's worked. And yes, it's called from the bench. But it's not called, necessarily, to throw a runner out. It's so the bench can read the other team's intent. Is the runner on first trying to swipe second? Is the batter squaring around to bunt? This happens lots of times on throws to first; they're not intended to pick the runner off, but to get the batter to reveal what he's intending to do.

Here's what one Nationals official told me about plays like that. Say there's a runner on first and no outs, and the pitcher throws to first. A savvy hitter will do the opposite of the play that's on. If they're going to bunt, he won't show anything. If they're swinging away, they'll show bunt.

So many little decisions go into it all.

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Silver Spring, Md.: The non-Kearns portion of last night's starting outfield is starting to seem like a real serious liability defensively. What's your take -- how much of a concern should this be?

Thanks.

Barry Svrluga: Wily Mo Pena is not surprising, and yes, he made some bad plays out there. I thought he was better than expected during his brief time with the Nationals last year, and now I think he's reverting to form. Milledge is simply not a good center fielder. His routes are poor, his instincts are poor, and he even reminds me at times of -- gulp -- Preston Wilson.

They're out there right now to see if they can develop -- offensively first, but also defensively. It's a process, and we'll see what happens.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: I believe Houston has more restaurants per square mile than any other city in the country. The place smells terrible, but at least the food is good.

Last night's game was blunderful! Of the many makeable plays (or made plays that should have been avoided), which was the worst in your eyes?

Berkman stealing third still galls me, but my favorite, I think, was Lopez striking out on a ball that hit him on the foot.

Barry Svrluga: Man, it's a potpourri of pitiful plays. Lopez did not have a good night, and that strikeout was ridiculous. If Lo Duca makes a throw to the other side of the bag, they nail Berkman at third. The balk was poor, too, and we've discussed the outfield play. I'll go with Milledge's misplay of Berkman's "double" in the seventh. Ouch.

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MountieNatsFan, Vienna, Va.: Observing Manny Acta's reticence to challenge an umpires questionable call (see Lopez check swing last night for called strike three) got me wondering what it would take for Manny to go Bobby Cox on an ump. Would an opposing catcher giving Nick Johnson...okay, make that Austin Kearns...a wedgie during an at bat do the trick? If so we should pass the word to our homie Brian Schneider, because it's high time for Manny to get lathered up at least once in response to us getting jobbed.

Barry Svrluga: Acta always has the same response on these things. He does not believe arguments from the manager turn around teams. Simply isn't true. He will go get things explained, and he gets upset, but long ago, in the minor leagues, he came to believe that getting thrown out does not have a positive effect on his club.

People disagree with him, but he is steadfast in this belief. So don't hold your breath for a Lou Piniella imitation.

(Right, Manny?)

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Virginia: How do you see the catcher situation working out? Will Estrada be traded? Do you really believe the Nats can carry three catchers for a significant amount of time?

Barry Svrluga: No, I don't, and I think Estrada is the most expendable now. He can't throw well (yes, Lo Duca's having his own problems) and he's basically serving in the Dmitri Young role as a switch-hitter off the bench. Wil Nieves is going to be a late-inning defensive replacement to protect a one-run lead, at least on occasion (with the first occasion being last night).

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Bratislava, Slovakia: Can you describe the mood in the clubhouse last night after giving the game away? Upset and/or somber? Or businesslike and/or nonchalant?

Barry Svrluga: I would say somber/businesslike. Very quiet. No smiles. But one thing I've come to realize about this sport is that guys simply can't afford to get that down about losses in May, however bad they are. They're generally playing better baseball, and if going crazy after one loss happens all the time, they wouldn't arrive at the park with the right attitude today.

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Alexandria, Va.: Barry,

Do the Nats intend to change the Friday games to 7:05 rather than 7:35, so that the fireworks won't get canceled out simply by a slightly-longer-than-average game? Otherwise, it would seem Saturdays might work better for fireworks. The current set-up seems like poor planning.

Barry Svrluga: Yes, it's an interesting question. I don't believe they'll be changing the plan now, but I'd be suprised if they fireworks aren't cancelled a couple of more times this year after a 3-hour, 20-minute game. Perhaps they'll change it up next year.

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Anonymous: Had some free time on my hands this morning and decided to look at the stats for the Nats Minor League teams. Came across Luke Montz catcher for AA Harrisburg. I don't recall hearing much about the guy but he is absolutely tearing it up w/.342 AVG, 7 HR, .701 SLG and 1.127 OPS. Is he considered a prospect or just a player that is having an abnormally good year?

Barry Svrluga: Not considered a true prospect, but certainly off to an encouraging start. Part of a Harrisburg team that just got an influx of new arms. The minor league affiliates of this club are getting more interesting to watch all the time.

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RE: The big baseball: Instead of a big baseball, how about a big nest with big eggs, and after every home run, have Screech pop out of one...

Barry Svrluga: I am going to pretend I never heard that.

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Sec 114, Row E: When watching on TV, Wily Mo doesn't look very good in the outfield. In person, it's downright scary anytime anything is hit out to LF. Is he as bad as he looks? Why does it seem more noticeable this season?

Barry Svrluga: I believe it's more noticeable this season because he is simply not playing as well out there. You're right: Everything over there seems like an adventure.

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Washington, D.C.: With Guzman playing so well are the Nats likely to sign him to another contract or use him as trade bait? If he were to continue to play like he is now it would be hard to imagine that the Nats would be able to upgrade at the SS position.

Barry Svrluga: This will be an interesting situation to watch. I think we need to play out a bit longer, but if you throw in the 46 games from last year with his performance thus far, we're approaching a half a season of very solid play for Guzman since he had eye surgery. Is he really this much better?

I would say both your suggestions are possible. Yes, he could be used as trade bait if a contender's shortstop goes down. And yes, he could be re-signed if the Nationals deem him the best option in the offseason. That could happen even if they trade him. But let's let this one play out a bit more before we draw firm conclusions.

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Calvert Street: Barry,

Any thoughts on Chris Needham giving up blogging for Capitol Punishment this morning?

Barry Svrluga: I have to say, I was crushed by this. There are lots of Nationals blogs. Only one was bookmarked on my computer and in my BlackBerry. Chris offered intelligent, analytical, scathing and funny takes on the Nationals. I would try to talk him out of it, but I know what goes into stuff like that. It certainly opens up a spot for someone else to bring that kind of discussion about the team.

Thanks for all the fun, Chris.

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RE: the big baseball: Perhaps it can be turned into a soundproof cell where we can banish Clint for eternity

Barry Svrluga: For the record, I did not suggest this.

(At least publicly.)

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Navy Yard: Minute Maid Park looks beautiful. Is it? Also, the Nats have consistently hit better there than at home. Do they like it better?

Barry Svrluga: Beautiful? I wouldn't say that. Tricked-up? Certainly. I mean, there's a hill and a pole in the outfield. That's ridiculous. There are also train tracks above the left-field wall, which is only 315 feet away.

It's very well-kept and a great place to watch a game. But it's not beautiful, and not nearly one of my favorites.

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DJ: I keep hearing good things about our pitching prospects. So when does Mike Rizzo get JimBo's job? All kidding aside, I know that Jay Z (Jordan Zimmerman) and cVa (Cory Van Allen) are still bits away ... when do we get to see Garrett Mock, Tyler Clippard or Collin Balester? Or even Jason Bergmann or Mike O'Connor (I know he's in the pen)?

Barry Svrluga: I think we'll see one or more of those folks by the end of the year. But take some deep breaths. The starting pitching, surprisingly, isn't this team's biggest problem in the early-going. And Mock and Clippard clearly need some more work at Columbus.

At least we have promising people about whom to talk now. That wasn't the case in the past.

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South Kennebunkport, Va.: Did anyone else notice George HW and Barbara Bush watching the game in what I presume are the expensive seats behind home plate? I didn't hear the TV announcers reference it (though I missed the first couple of innings, so they may have said it then). Give 'em credit: They were there, and seemingly paying attention, through the 8th inning!

Barry Svrluga: They're there a ton. And yes, they were there till the eighth. Wonder when they're headed out to Crawford for the big nuptials this weekend.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: I hate to keep this topic alive, but I was at the game last Tuesday, and I noticed that -- along with the moustache -- Nick was sporting the high socks again.

Did he lose his comfortable pants? Was this a nod to his mother, who apparently prefers the high socks? Was this done to see if we were paying attention?

Barry Svrluga: Nick's slumping, and is trying to mix it up some. Maybe the homer and the three walks last night help him get out of it.

One thing I find fascinating about him, though, is that even when he's not hitting, he's still able to draw walks. Some of it has to do with how little protection he has in the lineup. But he always has a good eye. Entering last night, his batting average was .211 -- not anywhere near what he's looking for -- but his OBP was .390, quite respectable. If he were just hitting .270, he'd be close to the league lead in OBP.

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Rosslyn, Va.: Any rumblings on what the Nats are planning to do with the #9 pick in next month's draft?

Barry Svrluga: Would like a shortstop first, but would take a starting pitcher. But keep in mind, too, that the baseball draft is less "need-based" than, say, football or basketball. These players are usually a long way from the majors, so ...

Bob Boone told me last week that he's got 10 players in the draft that he really likes, so the Nationals will get someone about whom they're excited. GM Jim Bowden will spend the next month making sure he sees all of the players the Nationals are considering -- some even a few times.

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Wilmington, N.C.: Jason Bergmann seems to have started to pitch pretty well down in Columbus. Any word on what he has been working on or any adjustments he has been making?

Bergmann has always been inconsistent so even though he was IL Pitcher of the Week and has pitched some pretty good innings, its hard to get excited about the guy anymore.

Barry Svrluga: Adjustments for Bergmann are not physical. They are mental. He must trust his stuff, because it is good enough to work in the majors. Bergmann can be his own worst enemy sometimes when he starts overthinking. If he doesn't do that, he's a major league pitcher.

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Arlington, Va.: Though I'm sad to see you move on to the Redskins, I'd like to say hello to your replacement, Chico (easy name to remember!). Any plans on when he'll introduce himself via the Journal or one of these live chats?

Barry Svrluga: There are a few questions like this, and thanks for asking.

Chico Harlan started at the Post earlier this week, and is currently going through orientation, etc., back at 15th and L NW. He and Sheinin went to lunch today. He and I went to lunch the other day. To my knowledge, he has not quit yet.

Chico and I will go to the park together over the weekend, and then I'll accompany him to New York for the Mets series after that. He should be introducing himself via Nationals Journal either Friday or Monday (depending on when I decide to give him the keys to the offices, or when I can get a copy of the keys made for myself). He's excited about the challenge, and knows he has a rabid constituency to keep informed.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I'm guessing with your comment about Zimm's rare left field shot last night you're not completely enamored with Lenny Harris' go to the opposite field philosophy. Is that opinion shared with any decision makers in the Nats FO?

Barry Svrluga: That particular comment is not a slam on Harris. It just means that as Zimmerman understands that he must be able to drive the ball to right field, he can't be happy just flicking it there every time he sees an outside pitch. He has serious power, and can hit the ball out on occasion to right. But he must somehow get himself situations where he gets HIS pitch, which is clearly one from the middle of the plate in.

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Section 409: Are the Nats going to auction off the Grays jerseys they wore the other day, as they've done in years past?

Barry Svrluga: Don't know. Will ask.

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Chicago Ill.: Why aren't you staying downtown? There are a dozen hotels within walking distance of the juice box.

I read once that reporters love staying at Marriotts for the points, even if that means being a $20 cab ride away from the park rather than next door. Isn't that what's going on here?

Barry Svrluga: There's some huge oil convention here in Houston this week that made hotel rooms ridiculously expensive. Thus, I'm way out Westheimer at a Residence Inn (which, coincidentally, is a Marriott property).

(If pressed, I could give you a list of the best Marriott properties at which to stay in each National League city. Come to think of it, Chico already has that list. When the boss found out I did that, he said, "Did you mention the words 'Red Roof Inn?'" Somehow that didn't come up.)

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Please make it stop: When will the Milledge-in-CF joke end? It is painful to watch.

Barry Svrluga: When the Nationals get a legitimate center fielder. Or when Elijah Dukes comes back, possibly.

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Wilmington, N.C.: Collin Balester: MLB ready or not?

Barry Svrluga: He is 2-2 with a 4.13 ERA. I simply haven't seen him pitch enough live to know, but the Nationals remain excited about him. They say his velocity is up to 94 this year. But I believe they don't want to rush him. When he comes up, they'd like it to be for good.

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Lenny Harris's hitting philosophy: Barry,

Does Lenny Harris have a hitting philosophy? Walt Hriniak (sp?) preached the Charlie Lau approach, Ted Williams published his in a book, etc.

In particular, is he trying to instill pitch selection into the Nats' hitters? They still seem to be swinging at the first sign of a halfway decent pitch to hit, and not working the count even if it means a walk.

Just looking at the box scores from the past week across MLB, way more often than not the team that draws more walks is the team that wins.

Barry Svrluga: This is an interesting question. Harris has a distinct philosophy that worked for him during his long career, much of which was spent as the best pinch hitter in the game. He had to be aggressive in those situations. "I may give you one strike, but I'm not going to give you two," he said a couple weeks ago.

Is that approach right for an entire lineup? Is Harris tweaking his advice to different hitters? There have been internal discussions about this with the Nationals. Remember, though: He was thrust into this position, and the club said they would see how he developed into it. That process is still happening.

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Reflecting Pool:35-40 days into the season, who are the biggest surprises? If you had to pick your playoff teams now, which would they be?

Barry Svrluga: I think anyone who says the Tigers aren't the biggest surprise would be crazy. I still look at the names in that lineup -- I mean, last night, Edgar Renteria hit eighth -- and find it staggering. But they have serious issues in the starting rotation and the bullpen. They may not recover.

Playoff teams, in May? Oh, what the heck. I won't be around to be held accountable anyway.

AL: Boston, Cleveland, Angels, Yankees

NL: Mets, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Dodgers

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Cleveland, Ohio: Barry, thanks for taking time today. It seems like Manny Acta has done everything he can do, except pitch himself, to allow the Nats to win more games. Will he be a fall guy, and if so, does he deserve to be?

Barry Svrluga: Under no circumstances would I expect Acta to be the fall guy. Just like everyone else around him, he's being given a chance to develop. If the team played sloppily, as it did during the early losing skid, for several months, there might be serious questions. But that didn't last, and I think the top officials hope/believe Acta is part of their long-term solution.

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Cleveland, Ohio: When all is said and done, will the Nationals be the worst team in baseball?

Barry Svrluga: No. Definitely don't think so.

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Re: Chico: Have you given him the most important tip? Never, never utter the names, Baltimore, Orioles, Washington and Post in the same sentence in these chats. The wrath of the rabid consitutency is one slip away.

Barry Svrluga: Actually, maybe I'll throw him under the bus and tell him to write in the Journal about how the Post has a commitment to covering the Orioles, and that he hopes to cover them some day.

(Kidding. My God, I have apparently learned nothing in four years.)

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Washington, D.C.: Any details on Elijah Dukes getting ejected for arguing balls and strikes? Should we be worried?

Barry Svrluga: Manny Acta said the report was that it was pretty normal stuff. It was his second call out on strikes, and he went back to the dugout and yelled from there. A good indication that the beef was legit is that his manager, Tim Foli, got ejected shortly thereafter.

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Washington, D.C.: Barry,

Speaking of your departure, I really am going to miss you, your writing style and your interaction with all us fans. I hope you don't think that I am crazy, but I snapped a couple of pics of you up in the skybox at a game last week just for posterity. Look forward to reading you on the Skins.

Barry Svrluga: You don't think that's why I'm getting off the beat?

In all seriousness, thank you (for reading, not for the photography). I am going to miss the beat very much as well. But I'll also be dropping in occasionally to spell Chico. I'll look forward to that. And you'll get a fresh approach from a really talented writer who's itching to get started.

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Section 204 Row K Seat 11, Bethesda, MD: Great Blog Post on Where Are They Now? Most posters there will live with Church gone if Milledge comes through. However, most (I among them) miss Snyder's presence behind the plate (throwing out runners and handling pitchers). Do you feel LoDuca's bat will come around enough to make the fans forget his shortcomings and thus validate the trade?

Barry Svrluga: I love those Where are They Now posts. They're good a few times a season.

I think every time a runner steals a base, a certain segement of Nationals fans will say, "Schneider would have thrown him out." But let's remember: Schneider threw out 24 of 77 would-be base stealers last year. That's a third of them. Not Lo Duca-esque, but also not 100 percent.

It'll be interesting to see if Lo Duca starts to hit.

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Mount Vernon, Va.: What will it take for you to reveal the skeletons in the closet before you leave? How many pounds of brisket will it take?

Barry Svrluga: I've got the key, and I plan on swallowing it at some point next week.

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Glover Park, Washington, D.C.: Barry --

Who are your favorite baseball beat writers, people you would recommend that we read?

Barry Svrluga: I really like Tyler Kepner, who has covered the Yankees at the New York Times for years, and I have to give a nod to Gordon Edes at The Boston Globe, who I think is perhaps the best in the business.

But there are not a lot of newspapers who let their beat writers really write a game story any more. They seem to be brief accounts of what happened, not deep stories about decision-making, etc. When I get defensive about the Post's baseball coverage, it's generally around that point, that we're given space to explain what happened and why.

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9th and V: Barry, I hope that your Chico-mentoring obligations aren't going to keep you away from here this weekend!

Barry Svrluga: Oh, they won't. I'll be stranding the young lad at the ballpark on Saturday night and scooting out to the 9:30 Club to catch Drive-By Truckers. If you spot me and Sheinin, you have permission to buy us beers.

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Barry Svrluga: My goodness, folks, so many left over questions. Thanks so much. It's my intention to have a chat next week from Shea Stadium, and then the next one will be Chico's to take you home over the last four-and-a-half months of the season.

Thanks for stopping by. I'll get you lineups from the ballpark. Enjoy the games.

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