Wednesday, May 28, 2 p.m. ET

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Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 28, 2008; 2:00 PM

Washington Post Nationals beat writer Chico Harlan was online Wednesday, May 28 at 2 p.m. ET to take your questions and comments about the Washington Nationals.

A transcript follows.

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Chico Harlan: Alright guys, let's chat. If you're here to talk about grilled pizza or free range chicken, you've entered the wrong chat room. Not that I couldn't try to answer your questions.

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Upper Deck (still lower than the press box): Chico,

Since you watch this team more than I do, what are your thoughts on Lastings Milledge as an outfielder? Elijah Dukes, for that matter?

Chico Harlan: UD, Milledge turns a lot of routine plays into shaky ones. He often struggles to track the ball on a direct route. He dives for balls only to compensate for late jumps. In a game Monday, he took a poor angle to cut off a ball that turned a Brewers' single into a double. So, am I making myself clear? Right now, he's a liability as a center fielder.

But he's learning. He'll either learn enough this season to become dependable by year's end, or the team will have to move him back to one of the corner spots, where he's far more comfortable.

Dukes has the arm and all the raw tools. Give him a year or two, and I think he'll made a stellar RF. But not if he's still batting below .150.

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Reston, VA: What's your read on the Flores situation? Is it safe to say he's here for good?

Chico Harlan: I don't think they can afford to send Flores down at this point. He's dependable behind the plate, and with a .333 average. he's easily among their 3-4 most dangerous hitters. Pitchers rave about his defense and pitch calling. A team with problems as deep as Washington's can't remove somebody like that just because there's a higher salary behind him.

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Section 138: Chico my man,

Can you explain to me how it fits "The Plan" to send down Chico (Matt, not you. 25) and bring up Manning (28) and Sanches (29)? I thought Matt could've learned more up here in the bullpen, since he would have more pitching appearances.

Chico Harlan: Just because Chico is in the minors and Sanches/Manning are up doesn't mean the Nats value (long-term) the latter over the former. The opposite, really. Washington sent Chico to the minors precisely because they want to see him rebuild himself, ala Jason Bergmann, and the team decided Chico wouldn't have the chance to do that coming out of the bullpen twice a week.

After all, if Chico will ever be a part of the long-term Plan (and I'd say it's doubtful at this point) it will be as a starter. So, Washington gave him the chance to pitch as a starter and get his act together.

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Shawn Hill: Chico: Is Hill getting outside medical advice on his arm? I hate to accuse the Nationals, but sports teams have a long history of not being honest with players about medical diagnoses. How did he feel physically after last night's effort? He sure looks "off."

Chico Harlan: No outside medical advice at this precise moment, but to be sure, Hill consulted with numerous people outside the organization before he got the all-clear. Among the doctors he's seen this year -- James Andrews, and an orthopedic surgeon at Duke. (I believe it's the same guy who'd dealt with John Patterson.)

Listen, the Nats may be desperate to have Hill pitch every fifth day this season, but they'd be foolish -- and they know it -- to force the issue. Bowden has said that the team is ultra-conservative when determining how to handle its pitchers, and I think you have to be. Hill or no Hill, the Nats aren't making a pennant run this season. But the team knows that Hill could be part of a pennant-winning rotation in the future. You don't risk that scenario just so he can be coerced into 20 starts this year.

As for yesterday: He said he felt OK. He still has pain, and he will for quite a while -- perhaps all season. But Hill attributed his lousy form to rust more than injury. When you can't throw bullpens in between starts, and when you haven't pitched in 11 days, I suppose you lose a feel for your stuff. That's why Hill looked lost at times yesterday.

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Beaufort, S.C.: Good afternoon Chico, though it's still morning where you are...My question has to do with the health of one Dimitri Young. Are you aware of any progress he might have made in controlling his diabetes? In a somewhat related matter, how is Nick Johnson's wrist coming along?

Chico Harlan: Not sure if progress is the right word. He's gotten a handle on living with it; I know that much. His weight has been about steady all season.

Nick Johnson's wrist will need several more weeks to heal. Right now, he still has a hard cast covering his right hand and forearm. Best case scenario, he's back by the very end of June. But it could be longer.

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23rd Street: Will we see Balester or Detwiler anytime soon?

Chico Harlan: Well, it might be contingent less on their performances than on the statuses of those in the current Wash rotation. Right now, assuming Hill can keep gutting it out, it looks like the Nats have a solid 1-2-3-4-5.

Balester has an ERA in the high 4s with Columbus right now, and Detwiler has a 4.17 in Class A. So, neither guy's numbers exactly scream for a promotion. That said, if some injury and/or performance slip strikes one of the current starters, those are two candidates, along with a few current guys in Harrisburg.

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Bethesda, MD: Chico, you've been through a few homestands enough to appreciate this question. If the Nats were to trade Clint, what do you think they could get from him in return and what team would be willing to take him?

Chico Harlan: I think this is one of those scenarios where you're probably not looking for value in a trade. It's just a pure salary dump. If I were in the Nats brass and found somebody willing to take Clint in exchange for, say, a solid handshake, I'd do it in a second. Throw in a bucket of baseballs and you've got a steal.

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Los Angeles: Has Wily Mo Pena's standing with the organization changed with his early season (non-) performance? Granted, he was probably rushed back from injury too soon and did not have the benefit of spring training to get ready for the season. However, without a home run stick, he has nothing else to offer, and right now, the home runs aren't there. How long is the leash?

Chico Harlan: Long enough that he's still playing.

But I agree that his standing within the organization has changed, LA.

When Washington began the season, I think management imagined him as a poor man's Adam Dunn -- homers being the main asset. They probably counted on between 20-30 from Wily Mo.

But now, it's almost June, and he has one.

If this kind of performance carries on for a few hundred more at bats, he won't be a regular LF on the team next season. No way.

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Can Millidge bash?: Chico,

You say Lastings would be more comfortable in a corner outfield spot, but do you think he will produce like a corner outfielder? He himself said he should be hitting only 15-20 HR's a year. Is that power production worth a corner outfield spot?

Chico Harlan: Therein lies the problem. Milledge sees it too, which is why he's trying to give the CF thing a good shake. If he can learn this, he'll be a more valuable player throughout his career. I can easily see Milledge putting up a dependable .280/20/75 five years from now. But yeah, that's super for a CF, only so-so for a corner guy. That's all part of the rationale for giving Lastings a chance to learn this position, even if it's ugly at times.

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Alexandria, Va: Hello Chico,

I was at Sunday's game and to me the pivital move was pinch-hitting Dmitri Young in the bottom of the ninth for Rauch--he came through with a key clutch single that put runners on first and third and set the Nats up for victory. All this after they blew a 6-0 lead. I thought that was huge. But I noticed that in your article about the game you focused on Dukes' walk that preceeded that hit instead as the key event in that sequence. I thought it was interesting that Duke's showed a new level of maturity waiting on pitches, but I didn't think it was the key at bat that inning. Just wondering why you chose that at bat to focus on.

Chico Harlan: Good question. The season is so long, with so many games, that sometimes you're drawn not to what's most important, but to what's most interesting -- or most refreshing -- or most poignant. I found Dukes' contributing in that game to qualify on all of those counts. Here was a guy who'd had a miserable season stepping on home plate with the winning run and then getting mobbed. Dmitri has had tons of hits like that in his career, and for him, it was just another game. For Dukes, it was something more memorable. Sometimes, as a writer, you just have to follow the emotion.

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Silver Spring, Md.: How is Zimmerman's shoulder?

Chico Harlan: Improved. I'll be very surprised if he's not back in the lineup by the Arizona series, which starts Friday. He might even be in the lineup tonight.

This is not a serious injury. Right now, he's day-to-day.

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Fla. and Ga. Aves.: So, since you were not in DC for the whole new-baseball-team-or-maybe-not thing a few years back, and apparently don't have any significant memories of eating crackerjacks at Griffith Stadium with your dear old pa, whaddaya think? Is DC a baseball town, or not?

Nicely written online gamer last night, btw.

Chico Harlan: Give me more time on this one. I don't think I can really make a fair assessment until I see what happens when...

1.) the Redskins season begins

2.) the Nats season drags on into August, and the team is way back in the race

If the Nats don't see much drop-off in interest and attendance by that point, I'll have to hand it to the DC baseball fanbase. Any town can get hyped for a winning team, but a "baseball town" will stick with things through the dog days.

Now I should mention this. I do have a pet theory that any given city/region can only have one team/franchise that it truly loves. Boston, for instance, is a baseball town -- baseball is etched into the place's soul -- and no matter how many Super Bowls the Patriots win, that won't change. Pittsburgh is a football town. We'll see where DC stands as the Nats develop roots, but I suspect they have a hard time overcoming the deep love for the Skins.

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Jim Bowden: Speaking of Adam Dunn just set off my "Ex-Reds radar." What do you think my chances are of signing Big Red to a free agent contract this offseason?

Chico Harlan: My gut: Not the right guy for this team. He needs a small ballpark and a lineup where others don't strike out much.

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Section 205: If the All Star game was next week, Guzman would be the Nat's representative, no? Is there a mlb come back player of the year award? This has to be one of the feel good stories in all of baseball (That and that Lester guy throwing the no hitter).

Chico Harlan: Guzman is a great comeback story, but he's a longshot for the all-star game. Even though this is a relatively weak year for NL shortstops, the league has several other players -- Tejada, Hanley Ramirez, even Ryan Theriot -- whose numbers are more impressive.

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Reston, VA: Is Aaron Boone likely to be dealt at the deadline?

Chico Harlan: That's probably a 50-50 proposition. The truth is, given Boone's age, he won't go to any contending team as anything but a role player, which means the Nats aren't likely to receive anything top-shelf in return. And given the state of Washington's bench right now, it might be wise to keep Boone there for the whole season, just so you can have at least one reliable bat.

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Planet NJ: Hope you're enjoying S.D. and the new beat.

Not much has gone right for the Nats so far this year. We expected them to be better than last year, and I think they expected that too. So far, they're not. How's the atmosphere in the clubhouse? Are they tight? Frustrated?

Chico Harlan: That's a tough question for a newbie, because that kind of assessment requires a frame of reference -- in other words, seeing the team last year, or seeing other baseball clubs on a frequent basis.

My hunch, though, is that this team really takes after its manager, who always keeps things fairly level. The Nats clubhouse doesn't strike me as frustrated or uptight. Even if this season hasn't quite met expectations, I don't think it's strayed too far from the path. This wasn't a team that started the year imagining a 95-win season. Nobody's walking around crestfallen or stunned.

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23rd Street follow-up: Besides the obvious (Chico), who do you see as the next starter to be promoted from the minors?

Chico Harlan: I'd say Chico first (in agreement). Then Balester.

So long as it happens this season, where experience and minor league level both give him an edge over the Zimmermanns and VanAllens.

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Bangkok, Thailand: Chico,

Welcome. I've been in Bangkok the last 10 days (7 more to to). Can you give me a run-down of what's gone on the last 10 days? What's your initial assessment of the team? Also, tell me a little bit about yourself.

Chico Harlan: Here's what you need to know. In the last 10 days, questions asked about Ryan Zimmerman's shoulder easily out-number the runs scored. I am a writer, and I write about shoulders and the lack of runs scored.

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Los Angeles: Is Tim Redding likely to be dealt at the deadline? Other than his last start, he's been remarkably consistent and pretty darn good. I could see a contender overpaying for his services, and it's hard to see the Nats saying no in that case.

Chico Harlan: Redding shouldn't be dealt; that's the first thought here. Just because somebody is having a fine season doesn't immediately make him a good trade candidate. Especially because Redding just might be the guy Washington needs at the back of its rotation in, say, 2009. If you trade Redding, you create a needless opening. I was going to post this on the blog later, but I might as well dish it out now -- just for everybody's amusement, and perhaps as a numerical proof that baseball is a damn unpredictable sport.

Tim Redding's numbers this year: 6-3 W-L/3.59 ERA/1.23 WHIP/62.2 IP.

Johan Santana's numbers this year: 6-3 W-L/3.41 ERA/1.20 WHIP/74.0 IP.

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re: Guzman Question - All Star Game: Don't the Nats have to send at least one person? Who else could they send?

Chico Harlan: Yes, the Nats do have to send one person. And yes, the Nats will almost certainly be sending just one.

My odds:

Rauch -- 30 percent

Redding -- 20 percent

Zimmerman -- 35 percent

Guzman -- 10 percent

Flores -- 3 percent (think Tony Romo, playing 10 gms and making the Pro Bowl)

field -- 2 percent

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Chico Harlan: We've run out of time, folks. Let's do it again next week, eh?

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