Wednesday, June 25, 2 p.m. ET

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Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 25, 2008; 2:00 PM

Washington Post Nationals beat writer Chico Harlan was online Wednesday, June 25 at 2 p.m. ET to take your questions and comments about the Washington Nationals.

A transcript follows.

Discussion Archive.

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Chico Harlan: Greetings folks. Thanks for sharing the afternoon with me. If you're here to talk about Fred (the Brazilian midfielder), you've entered the wrong chat room.

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Annandale, Va.: Chico, I have almost lost complete interest in the Nats this season and it is not because of injuries. It has to do with how bad they are this season and they do nothing about it (for instance, Lopez and Lenny Harris are still part of this team). However, because of my lack of interest, I have lost track of how Ryan Zimmerman is doing. Can provide an update and ETR (estimated time of return).

Hope the fans and media can stay healthy.

Chico Harlan: Well wait a second: You cannot separate the Nationals' on-field miseries and their injuries. One explains the other, in large part. I know, I know -- they were a sub-.500 team before half the lineup fled to the DL. But they would never have devolved so thoroughly. Lenny Harris might look like a far more capable hitting coach if he had the talent to work with top-to-bottom. Lopez probably wouldn't be forced into the lineup as much.

That said, Zimmerman. He still hasn't started swinging a bat yet, but he's on the field every day throwing, playing catch, etc. He's also sticking with his strength rehab program for his elbow. He'll be reevaluated around the All-Star break. At that time, we'll know if he needs season-ending surgery. Team says the odds of that are 30 percent... so it's probably more like 50 percent.

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Washington, DC: Having watched Lastings Milledge now for a month or so, do you believe he can stick defensively as a center fielder? Some of your NJ fans criticize his arm. Do scouts and others you talk to share that criticism? Does the team feel they can just let him play and the kinks will work out? If not, do they think he'll grow into more power and be a corner outfielder?

Chico Harlan: Lastings deserves credit. Plenty. His defensive play has taken a precipitous leap in the last month or so. He tracks the ball better and makes fewer boneheaded throws. I don't believe he'll ever become a standout center fielder, but he's at least starting to look serviceable.

Here's the thing: The one guy Washington has with all the tools to be a great outfielder is Elijah Dukes. In time, if Dukes can demonstrate that, 1.) he's a solid citizen and can be counted on for years to come, and 2.) he's a worthy member of the lineup, then I'm guessing Dukes becomes the eventual CF. And Milledge may be put on the corner. But that won't come this year, no way. Maybe never.

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Silver Spring, MD: Is it fair to say that this team has hit rock bottom? Inconsistent pitching, sporadic offense, indifferent defense are all signs of a bad team that has little depth and no reinforcements available in the minors. Help!

Chico Harlan: No, because the team still doesn't yet have the worst record in the majors. But that will come, I believe. Right now, Washington has so little manpower that it's almost inevitable... this team is doomed for another very difficult month. Once a few guys return to the lineup, perhaps we'll get some watchable baseball again.

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Alexandria: With Johnson eternally injured and Dmitri Young struggling offensively and defensively, and not getting any younger or thinner, do the Nats regret losing slugger Josh Whitesell to Arizona on the waiver wire? I'd rather he was playing here than in Tucson flirting with a 1.000 OPS...

Chico Harlan: Probably, but that's a hard move to second-guess. The team had two first basemen that were major-league ready, both of them proven .300 hitters. And they had Marrero a few years back, waiting for a chance in, say, 2010. And let's not anoint Whitesell just yet. He might become a great slugger, but he might also become Chris Shelton. Too early to know.

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Nats703: Hey Chico,

Great work as of late, the blog has really been top-notch.

My question is a bit of a two-parter. Manny has been described as one who turns to sabermetrics, but it seems as though he has been ignoring the numbers as of late by continuing to bat Milledge third. Milledge only has an RC27 of 3.8 and his adjusted runs is -11.4 while, on the other hand, Jesus Flores (according to the numbers) is the most productive guy in the line up with and RC27 of 6.2 and an adjusted runs score of 5.2. Wouldn't it seem more productive to bat Flores at the number 3 slot and switch Milledge to the five?

Also it seems as though Manny has shied away from using the bunt to move guys in to scoring position this year, particularly with guys on first and second and no outs.

Last year he seemed to do this a lot more, especially in the second half of the season. Any idea why he is so reluctant to do this in the current season?

Chico Harlan: I can only guess with respect to Milledge and Flores. I know Manny subscribes to some of the baseball-by-numbers theory, but I doubt he crafts his lineup based purely on adjusted run numerics. Putting a 23-year-old rookie, who last year was playing in Class A ball, as your No. 3 hitter probably places unnecessary pressure on Flores. Yeah, Milledge is no vet, but he's shown an ability to at least fill the No. 3 hole by necessity. Plus, sometimes if you have a guy who's thriving in a spot in the batting order -- as Flores has done -- there's more to lose by switching things. If Milledge likes batting third and Flores is fine batting fifth, just stick with it. The lineup has far bigger problems. Namely, what happens after Flores.

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Burlington, Ontario: Hi, Chico. So what happens when Kearns comes off the DL, which sounds like could be fairly soon. Does he go back to right, Dukes to left and Pena nailed to the bench or released?

Chico Harlan: LF -- Dukes

CF -- Milledge

RF -- Kearns

That's probably your outfield for the rest of the season.

The team still talks about Pena as if they envision many more at bats to come this season, but I think that's doubtful -- his homer last night aside. The team won't release him, not yet at least. But he'll be nailed to the bench. (I like your word choice, Canuck.) WMP isn't a candidate for pinch-running and late-inning defense.

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Bethesda, Md.: I'm not starting a "Let's Fire Manny Acta," movement, our talent base is so poor that no manager could win here right now. But having said that, this team is so lousy at fundamentals -- shouldn't he be responsible for that? Even last year, when they so massively overachieved and Manny (deservedly) was the toast of the town, we were terrible at base running, bunting, solid play in the field, etc. Shouldn't Manny be responsible for this?

Chico Harlan: If I were to list this team's problems, the list would be long, and Manny Acta's name would not be on it. Not once.

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Capitol Hill: The Nats look like a pretty good bet to approach 100 losses. But do you think they started being absolutely awful too late in the season to achieve a record 120 losses?

Chico Harlan: Wait a second... is this a trick question.

Your question, I must admit, sent me quickly scrambling to the my BlackBerry calculator for some quick computation. But the short answer is, the Nats have NO chance of losing 120 games.

They have a 30-49 record right now.

You're suggesting, then, that they might go the rest of the season -- and it's not even half over yet -- with no more than 12 wins. (For a 42-120 record.)

Ridiculous. The Mayo Clinic staff softball team could win 12 games in 83.

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NatMan: Chico:

Did you ever think you would need a copy of Gray's Anatomy to cover the Nat's? Which is the ulnar side of the wrist? Inside or outside? Sad news about Nick Johnson and Shawn Hill but not totally unexpected.

Aside from the numerous injuries I think the big question for the Nat's is Felipe Lopez. Manny has been very, very patient with him, allbeit by necessity, but his mental lapses and lack of situational awareness seem to be approaching the intolerable level. Are there any infeild prospects in the minors that can be brought up? At this point I would rather watch a youngster play hard and suffer rookie mistakes than endure any more indifference from Lopez. I think the image he is projecting is really bad for the team.

Chico Harlan: I believe the ulnar side of the wrist is the inside. (In other words, if you turn your palm up, it's the side closer to your body.)

And yeah, agreed with the Johnson-Hill news. Especially with Hill, this was a long time coming.

As for Lopez: He's made plenty of errors this season, mental and otherwise. Sometimes his body language is problematic by itself. Lopez is getting many chances in part because nobody behind him in the minor league system is ready to push him. If Manny Acta ever tires of Lopez, his best option is to play Belliard, Willie Harris, Pete Orr and Kory Casto more often. Ideal? No. Not at all.

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Silver Spring, MD: Which veterans, if any, do you think will be moved at the trade deadline for some youth? Rauch? Guzman?

Chico Harlan: I've said before that I don't think the Nats can afford to trade Rauch. Especially the way he's anchored the bullpen. To date, he's been the only reliable arm they have in the pen.

The trading deadline comes at a very difficult time for the Nats. Because of injuries, many of the guys who would have been possible trade material just aren't getting the at bats to show their worth. (I'm talking about the veterans, especially.) If the team could find a taker for Lo Duca, possibly for Pena, they'd jump on it most likely. But neither has made himself valuable enough to be coveted.

Guzman is a tough call. I think the team should make an effort -- right now -- to sign him for another few years. If they wait until the offseason to sign him, his contract will only be larger. Only reason they shouldn't is if they're ready to make a serious run at one of the big-name SS free agents on the market this winter.

In that case, they can shop Guzman around and check out his worth. But say they traded Guzman this July... But assuming they don't get any major-league ready middle-infielders in exchange for him, they're putting themselves in a desperate situation for the offseason.

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Manassas, Va.: Will someone please explain why the Oakland A's are willing to spend $4 million on a 16-year-old Dominican pitcher and the Nationals are not?

Chico Harlan: I'm finding the logic a bit flawed.

Just because the Nationals haven't done this doesn't mean they are unwilling, as a policy. (But let me also add: Just because the A's do it, does that make it wise? When was the last time anybody benefited from a 16-year-old with $4 million?)

See also: Telfair, Sebastian.

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Vienna VA: Good lord I've seen some bad baseball this year, and last night's was one of the worst. Hill's one subject, 4 errors is another. Seeing LoDuca in left was a horror, as was his one throw in to second. I don't think the hitting is going to "even out." I love(d) Manny Acta, but he can't seem to get this team off its lethargic butt.

Even the battery combo of Jesus throwing to Jesus, with a solid Christian at short provides no miracles.

Is their any relief this year? Clearly not from the bullpen.

Chico Harlan: I've got a few questions in the hopper here that really make me feel bad for the Nats fanbase right now. I feel like this chat room should be equipped with a plush sofa and some soothing music. One or two people have even begged me to tell them something -- anything -- positive.

So how about this?

Last night, Potomac OF Edgardo Baez was named the Single-A California/Carolina League All-Star Game MVP, after hitting an opposite-field solo home run in the bottom of the eighth inning that lifted the Carolina League to a 3-1 victory at BB&T Coastal Field in Myrtle Beach.

There ya go.

Thank Baez, not me.

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Sec 419, Row E: I actually have a few questions and not a comment. After sitting in real good seats in Seattle last week, I noticed that the first base coaches are all working stopwatches. What are they timing and what immediate info/advice do they give the runners based on it? Why do some players carry their batting gloves with them rather than putting them in their pocket or in the hands of the coach when they get on base? And finally, what was Jesus Flores wearing on his wrist last night?

Chico Harlan: You must have had some really good seats. You have also succeeded in making me feel absolutely unknowledgeable. With regret, I cannot answer a single one of those questions. But maybe somebody else on this board can assist.

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Harpers Ferry, W.V.: Chico, From reading your blog's comments it looks like many fans are losing patience and already calling for heads to roll...i.e. Bowden, Acta, Harris, every player over age 23, etc. What's so funny to me is that Redskins fans hate Snyder for not building a team the "right way" and always going for overpriced free agents. Yet just two years into the Lerner ownership fans are already growing tired of the building from the bottom up "Plan." Don't fans here realize it took Tampa 10 years to get to this point (contention)? And this is baseball; not football, the home of the quick turnaround. Do Kasten and the Lerners really have what it takes to build this the right way, no matter what the fans say and do (crazy or not)? Or will they cave to these impatient fans and start doling out large contracts to mediocre players?

Chico Harlan: That's a fascinating question, Harpers -- perhaps the central question facing this team in the next year.

To synthesize: How do you go from here? And, does the trainwreck of '08 alter the path?

I'm thinking that it shouldn't. You mention the Redskins, always a fair case study in unwise spending. But it's not just a matter of spending/not spending. The Nats, so far, have given no indication that they do not believe their Plan is working. Bowden suggested as much yesterday when he ranked the minor league system as an "A." The fact that he graded the major league team as a "D" was a frustrating... but almost secondary to what was coming from the foundation.

Here are the players from this year's active roster who I'd say have the chance to be legit pieces for the future:

Elijah Dukes

Lastings Milledge

Jesus Flores

Ryan Zimmerman

But good teams have 9-15 players of that caliber, not four. The Nationals have many holes to fill right now, and one or two big free agent signings during the offseason probably won't provide a quick turnaround.

But maybe by 2010, when the above list has a few more players on it -- people who've come from the minor league system -- then you'll have a true nucleus.

Tampa is a dangerous blueprint, because most franchises wouldn't trade such a long period of misery for anything. But the point is salient. Development takes patience.

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Arlington, VA: First base coaches are timing pitchers delivery time to evaluate whether to attempt to steal or not.

Some players hold their gloves when running to prevent themselves from extending their fingers when sliding. Having the fingers out is a good way to get injured.

Like many fans, I'm beginning to lose patience with the mental lapses of this team. Makes we wonder how bad that Tigers team was a few years ago that lost 116 games or something like that. And they were in the World Series in 2-3 years.

Chico Harlan: Bravo. Collective knowledge> mine.

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Annandale - Part II:: Chico, Thank you for taking part one of my question. But your answer does not cut it. This is the fourth year of bad Nats baseball and the third bad baseball team in this city. The "baseball is back" time is over. As part of a season ticket package, I expect more then a playground in centerfield. We are investing a lot of fan support time and money in "The Plan" that "might" work. The talk to start the year was they "might" win more games then they lose. When you say "Lenny Harris 'might' look like a far more capable hitting coach if he had the talent to work with top-to-bottom." Well, it looks like he "might" not. Hitting has become the problem with the Nats since he took over.

Time for some changes from the top down. Cutting a few players and coaches is a start.

Chico Harlan: I'll just publish this and let it stand for the general feelings out there.

I'll add this much: Cutting a few players and coaches might help the public's notion of accountability with the Nationals, but it won't change the product. This is an awful baseball team no matter the hitting coach.

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Los Angeles: Are we simply a victim of the Nats' surprising success in their inaugural 2005 campaign in town? In a perfect world, that team, which challenged for a wild card, should be this year's edition, while this year's dreadful outfit should have been the 2005 edition. Instead, they've mixed it all up on us, thrown in a "Plan" for eternal hope (and confusion), and left everybody pretty salty.

The way I see it, we're getting 2005 today. We had to pay the piper at some point.

Chico Harlan: A year like this is tough to stomach no matter where it comes along the line, what came before it, etc. We all have short memories. And when we pay to attend baseball games, we're paying the ticket to see THAT game. Residual joys of, say, 2005, die fast.

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New York: You know, it's pretty pathetic to trot out an NBA point guard when you are (again) defending the Nats not spending any money. Would you like a do-over on that?

Chico Harlan: No. Not saying this bonus baby will be a bust. I just don't feel like it's money well spent. If you want young talent, invest in academies, in scouting. Don't pour four million into one kid.

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Sec. 216: For Manassas, considering that the previous record signing bonus to a Dominican kid was for our own Wily Mo Pena, I don't know that the A's are guaranteed any better results.

Chico Harlan: Amen.

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Drills: So after LoDuca's terrible throw last night, Dimitri's O-Lay on a grounder, and Willie Harris dropping a line drive, is there any retribution to be acted on the team by Acta? I don't necessarily mean a benching or a worthless team meeting, but how about defensive drills---maybe showing up for something other than utterly worthless batting practice conducted by Lennie Harris. If not, it seems like Acta has mailed in the season...much like the fans and the players.

Chico Harlan: All were pathetic plays. But Acta had said before the game that he was sacrificing defense (at left field especially, but also at second base) to get some bats in the game. He needed his left fielders to hit. He wanted to keep Harris in the lineup. Granted, both moves backfired in hideous fashion. But that was the risk he felt willing to take.

When Acta talked about his defense after the game, he said a slide like we've seen in the last week-plus was something he feared would come. He mentioned that his three best defensive players -- Kearns, Zimmerman and Johnson -- are all on the DL right now.

"So I knew this was coming," he said.

Acta is in a near-impossible situation. He can subject Dmitri and Harris and Lo Duca to extra defensive drills, but that will cause problems; that will come off as an insult, something a Little League coach would do. So should he bench them? Play Casto at first? Put Pena back in left? Put Lopez back at second? He's damned any way you look at it.

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The Future...Where We Will All Live Someday:"Here are the players from this year's active roster who I'd say have the chance to be legit pieces for the future: Elijah Dukes; Lastings Milledge; Jesus Flores;

Ryan Zimmerman." What about Lannan? Jeez, if there's really no one on the current pitching staff who'll be around on 2010, I'd say the plan is way off course...

Chico Harlan: Excuse me. I was talking just about the lineup here. (Though I failed to indicate that.) Lannan absolutely is a part of the future, too.

Bergmann has a chance, too, if he can ever become more consistent.

Hill is looking more and more like John Patterson redux.

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Arlington, VA: Do you think anything needs to change in terms of the training regimen, training staff, off-season conditioning, etc? I know the Nationals don't always attribute performance to coaching/staff (see "lack of hitting") but after a while it's more than just bad luck.

Chico Harlan: That's a good question, Arlington. I don't feel equipped to give a fair answer yet, because I don't know how the Nats' training regimen compares with that of other major league teams. Yes, the injury list has grown so long that you almost feel the need to look for something to explain it. It can't just be a cosmic case of bad luck, right?

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Chico Harlan: Thanks again for the time, folks.

Can I leave you with some good news?

OK, then. Seattle is still 28-49. Nats have a full game lead on them.

Of course, Seattle has already fired its GM and manager, so the fans there need something new to blow fire about.

See you next week.

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