Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2 p.m. ET

Washington Nationals

Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 27, 2008; 2:00 PM

Washington Post Nationals beat writer Chico Harlan was online Wednesday, Aug. 27 at 2 p.m. ET to take your questions and comments about the Washington Nationals.

A transcript follows.

Discussion Archive.


Chico Harlan: Good afternoon, folks!

As a wise man I know once said, "And away we go!"


Gaithersburg, MD: What happened to Ross Detwiler? Last year as a high college draft pick they had him on the fast track and now he is supposedly lost and struggling at A ball.

Chico Harlan: In recent discussions I've had with folks in the organization, there doesn't yet seem to be too much concern about Detwiler's year. But to be sure, he's taken a step back, at least statistically. Those outside the organization seem to think Detwiler has taken a significant backslide, and isn't anywhere close to the prospect Washington thought it was getting.

His numbers this year at Class A Potomac: 7-8 W-L record and a 5.03 ERA.

Not every prospect needs to dazzle at every level of the minors. Sometimes little glitches -- whether they come from mechanics, arm troubles, what have you -- can manifest themselves with one bad year that, in retrospect, looks like an aberration. But it's too early with Detwiler to know. Next year will be critical. He'll have to pitch his way back.


Fairfax, VA: As far as Jim Bowden's long-term future with the team, is it fair to judge him on this season, particularly given the injuries? For that matter, given "the Plan," can you even judge him next season? I'm not a Bowden lover or hater, but it seems like he's done exactly what Kasten has asked of him.

Chico Harlan: Well, for sure it's fair to judge him; this season is a significant part of his track record. The injuries don't make it all that much more difficult to analyze his moves, actually. Rather than look at the W-L record, you simply have to look at how the Nats are positioned because of Bowden's moves.

I'd say Bowden's made a lot of short-term mistakes this year (FA signings like Lo Duca, Estrada, etc.). He's also earned at least one real win in the trade for Milledge. Given what he's had to work with -- constrained by a tight payroll -- he's needed to be creative. The Elijah Dukes trade was one example, and though the jury is still out, that, too, has the potential to be another smart move.

In truth, the moves Bowden made this year probably get a passing grade. The biggest problems the team has moving forward, at least at the major league level, have more to do with money that he tied up (before the season) to players like Austin Kearns and Dmitri Young. That's money the Nats would love to be able to spend differently.


Arlington, VA: Chico, Last night's game wasn't always pretty, but it was heartening to see the Nationals hold up under pressure. But Joel Hanrahan looked like a man facing the the electric chair in the 9th. Does the front office really think he has the composure (as opposed to the pitching skills) to be a closer?

Chico Harlan: They do. But they need to see it.

Hanrahan was in full daredevil mode last night, but in the end, you have to judge a closer by a basic Y/N. Does he preserve the win? Simple. Hanrahan did. So, he did his job. Remember, the Nats for several years relied on a closer, Chad Cordero, who was great at daring defeat and then pulling out of disaster.

Just because Hanrahan looked shaky last night isn't a cause for immediate concern. Once he has 20 or so save opportunities (and that might not come until some early point next season) we'll have a better track record on which to judge him.


Sacramento, CA: John Rauch and Randy Johnson. Are they the tallest teammates in MLB history?

Chico Harlan: I am positive that the answer is yes on this. It's funny, if the Dbacks had an intramural basketball team, Randy Johnson wouldn't even be the center; he'd be the 4. Rauch, a 6-11, is the tallest person in baseball. Johnson is listed at 6-10.


The next arrival: So who's on the way come Sept. 1? Anyone worth getting excited about, 'cause God knows we could use some good news.

Chico Harlan: Here are some players I think have a good chance of coming up:

(Just a quick list of some probable's)...

Kory Casto

Mike Hinkley

Luke Montz

Roger Bernadina

Jordan Zimmermann

Leonard Davis

maybe Ian Desmond and Mike Daniel (currently in Harrisburg)...

As I've mentioned before, the Nats have already promoted the sort of players (like Balester and Bonifacio) who'd normally be the heralded call-ups this time of year. Washington's day-to-day lineup probably won't change much come Sept. 1.


Afton, Va.: Does Zimmerman still have shoulder and hand problems? His throws to first base seem to be way off target. He seems to be dragging the bat thru the strike zone. Doesn't seem to have much real power or zip in his swings.

Chico Harlan: I've noticed the same thing. I don't doubt that Zimmerman still feels banged up... His injury will need an offseason to heal. His power has been way down since he's come back from the DL. He hasn't hit a home run since May. So yeah, I gather that his shoulder has to be affecting his swing; he's hitting for a respectable average, but the typical strength doesn't seem to be there.

The throwing is another thing. I agree, it's been a tad off. But it's his left shoulder that Zimmerman injured. His right arm is fine. So there cannot be a connection.

That said -- his defense saved the Nats yesterday. If they had, say, Ronnie Belliard or Kory Casto at 3B like they did in June, the Nats would have lost that game.


Washington, D.C.: Yesterday Aaron Crow was named the winner of the Roger Clemens award as being the best pitcher in college baseball beating out Brian Matusz, among others. As a consolation to the Nats' long suffering fans, do you think the club might decide to reduce the price of a beer at the ballpark by 50 cents (so we can cry in our beer without fumbling for change)?

Chico Harlan: Forget 50-cent price reductions. How about 50-cent beer?


Arlington: Eat anywhere good in Chicago? I'm going there next month and I could use a recommendation.

Chico Harlan: Haven't eaten there, but I will most certainly make a pilgrimage to this spot if I'm back covering the Cubs in the NLCS or the World Series.

Alinea ... it's pricey, but it's supposed to make for one of the best eating experiences in the country.


So is the axe being sharpened?: Chico, with this season limping towards its conclusion, is there any sign yet that scapegoats are being chosen for the chopping block? I think it's safe to say Lenny Harris is dead meat, but I wonder if either Acta or Bowden will go. I thought Manny was safe, but then I read a recent post at Sports Illustrated's site, quoting an opposing coach saying the Nats were a disgrace with their attitudes. What's the feeling out there?

Chico Harlan: There's a lot of speculation about both Harris and Bowden, and all of it is grounded in firm reasoning. Harris's hitters haven't hit much of anything this season. Bowden, even if you look beyond his moves this season (which I addressed earlier in the chat) still has had a couple problems: Among them, his handling of the Chad Cordero situation and his involvement (the degree is still unknown) in the FBI investigation. Those, combined with the Aaron Crow non-signing, have made for a tough year.

But Acta is the surest among those three to be back. I don't put much credence in one or two unattributed observations from opposing coaches. Acta is no yeller-screamer, so his team does not march around like a bunch of Marines. But even at this point in the season, they still play hard for him, and still respect him. The Nats would be playing bad baseball no matter what approach their manager had taken this year. Acta's style, though, has preserved the team's sanity.


Los Angeles: What confidence should we have that the Crow breakdown was an isolated instance and not the precursor to a larger disaster next year where they don't sign or even select Strasburg?

Chico Harlan: An organization can afford something like the Crow breakdown in a rare year because it does pick up the compensatory pick. So, in essence, it's just a one-year setback on acquiring a similarly talented player.

But an organization cannot afford to go two years in a row without getting a first-round pick. A rebuilding franchise needs that influx of talent. Quite simply, the Nationals must sign their players next year, both Strasburg (presumably) and pick No. 10. Otherwise, why even have a farm system?


Leonardtown, Md.: Is there nothing in these major league contracts that require the players to maintain themselves in playing shape? It baffles me that the Nat's have to pay Dmitri Young millions of dollars even though he is unable to play, not because of injury, but because he has kept himself in such horrible physical shape.

Chico Harlan: It would need to be part of a special clause.

I bet the Nats are wishing Dmitri's contract included something just like that.


Washington, DC: How surprised are you that Ronnie Belliard is still with the team? He's inexpensive, having a good year, has a track record with winning clubs, can hold down second as a regular, can back up all infield positions, has top tier OPS for the middle infield . . . The Nats adopted the ABB plan for '09 second base(Anyone But Belli). What am I missing?

Chico Harlan: Belliard probably will be back with the team next year. He's proven his worth, especially in the last month. On an ideal team, or even on an unideal team (like the '09 Nats), Belliard is probably not an everyday player. But he's good for 300-400 ABs per year. He can hit with respectable power, and he's got a good amount of energy in the clubhouse. So long as he's willing to be a bench player -- and remember, he signed here with that expectation -- Belliard is actually a bargain.


Penn Quarter: Do the Nats plan to limit the innings that Lannan and Balester pitch in September. Looking back on it, it seems that they may have overworked Chico last year.

Chico Harlan: Good, relevant question, Penn Quarter, and I'm ashamed that I haven't asked any of the involved sources about this. I'll get you an answer asap.


Glen Echo: Hey Chico

Whenever I attend a game, as I did last night, I tell myself "Don't forget to ask Chico" the big question at the next chat. So I'm asking. Who or what is MLB afraid of with its ridiculous policy of not showing replays of "controversial calls" on the big screen, especially those unfavorable to the home team. (From my view in section 416, Willie Harris looked safe at first) I'm hopeful this is an MLB policy and not the Nationals. Do they think all those rabble rousers in the $300.00 seats will storm the field? I wish that Nationals fans were so into their team that this policy made sense. Scratch that! Even if this were Boston, Chicago, or New York, the policy still stinks!!

Chico Harlan: Interesting observation, Glen Echo.

I've never noticed the tendency to not show controversial replays for one reason alone: Up in the press box, whenever there's a close play (like the one with Willie Harris at first... he was safe, by the way), I turn my head to the nearby television monitor, which has the MASN telecast.

Obviously, I always see the replays there.

But this is among two questions (or comments) today complaining about the no-controversy replay policy at Nats Park. If that's the case, and I welcome some confirmation from others in the chat room today, there's certainly no reason for it. What's the worst that happens? Fans boo? They get an improved understanding of the game? Seriously, if you're going to have a high def monitor the size of a cruise ship, you might as well display something worthwhile.


"One real win": I'm sorry, did you just say Milledge was a "win"? Is there some bat boy on the team called Milledge? Because you can't mean that no-hit, no-field, base-running-error-waiting-to-happen that plays center field.

Chico Harlan: Absolutely a win.

Milledge is 23, hitting out of position, learning everyday. Ideally, he'd be batting sixth or seventh, but instead, he's carrying more weight that he's ready for. And still, he's leading the team in HRs. His defense has improved markedly this season. His average has risen about 20 points since he came off the DL. The guy will be, at worst, a .270-.280 hitter with 20-25 HRs annually once he reaches his prime. That's the worst-case scenario.


the sweet-smelling Golden Triangle: I think it's fair to criticize Manny Acta for his performance in '08. To be sure, he doesn't deserve all or even most of the blame, but in a 100-plus-loss campaign, there's plenty to go around. The specific complaints are as follows:

1. Acta thinks there is never, ever a time to intentionally get thrown out of a game to wake up the team. Bobby Cox, Earl Weaver, Billy Martin, and Lou Piniella -- to name a few successful big-league managers -- would beg to differ. On-field blowups are like team meetings: the fewer you have, the more effective they are. But c'mon, never?

2. The backup catcher doesn't get enough starts. Catchers get beat up during the course of a game, and Flores is too important an asset to tarnish. Playing him as much as they do risks at best, burnout and at worst, injury.

3. Acta is wearing out his bullpen. This is the second straight year that Nats relievers have led the league in number of appearances. And this year at least, the starters have been significantly better than the relievers. Several times I've seen Manny pull starting pitchers who were throwing shutouts, usually to disastrous effect.

Taken together, the preceding probably isn't a firing offense, but you have to at least wonder.

Chico Harlan: I will defend Acta on the second and third point, especially. (The first is a mere matter of style, and we've talked about it here before.)

As for the bullpen: Acta, as a manager, does not ask more from his bullpen than other managers. He simply changes pitchers more often that other managers; thus, his relief pitchers have more appearances. But Washington's bullpen, as a whole, does NOT pitch an exorbitant number of innings. This year, the Nats bullpen has pitched 436 innings -- that's ninth-most in baseball. More or less, right near the bell curve. Acta has no problem letting his starters pitch long if they have the ability to. But how many times does, say, Tim Redding reach 100 pitches by the fifth inning? How many times does Collin Balester have 91 pitches through the middle of the sixth? These days, pitchers don't go much over 110. As a result, almost every team in baseball has relievers handling things in the 7-8-9... and maybe the 6th, too. Acta isn't overusing his bullpen.

As for the back-up catcher complaint, this is the first I've heard of such a thing. Wil Nieves is ideally a once-a-week starter. Acta has been using him as such. Catcher is a hard position on the body, but Flores is playing there no more frequently than most starters. Plus, the Nats need his bat in the lineup.


"the no-controversy replay policy": If I recall a column written some years ago by some guy nicknamed Boz correctly, the umpires told MLB that the first time a controversial or close call got played on a stadium screen, the umps working that game would walk off the field. And the umps would deal with the consequences from the league later.

Chico Harlan: When I was doing some background research for my instant replay article yesterday, I came across this article from Boswell. Very cool... I'll paste below.

HEADLINE: Replays 'Out,' Ueberroth Says

BYLINE: Thomas Boswell, Washington Post Staff Writer


LENGTH: 235 words

Peter V. Ueberroth declared today that baseball umpires never will adopt any form of instant replay as long as he is commissioner.

"There will not be instant replay of any sort," he said.

"We're just not going to do it. The umpires making split-second decisions is part of the flavor of the game. We don't want to lose that flavor. You can make a dish so bland that it's not worth sitting down at the table."

He said he will issue a formal edict this week. Last week, National League umpire Paul Runge used a scoreboard replay in Pittsburgh to reverse one of his calls, negating a run in a game the Pirates protested but eventually won, 2-1.

National League President A. Bartlett Giamatti commended Runge.

"That's wrong," said Ueberroth. "Instant replay is not even to be considered as an option for umpires under any circumstance. If we start going down this road, then it will be 'home-team replay,' " added Ueberroth, meaning that teams would be tempted to show only those replays that helped themselves. "I'll shut down the scoreboards if I have to, and the teams know it."


Bowden Q: Looks like Strasburg will be ours if we want him. So the key question regarding Bowden's future should be whether he's the right guy to negotiate a deal with Strasburg.

Any thoughts? The handling of the Crow situation seems particularly relevant here.

Chico Harlan: In fairness to Bowden, he's handled negotiations just fine with all the other first-round picks he's drafted. The Crow negotiations would have been difficult for any GM in baseball. I do not find much fault with Bowden's handling of the matter.


Hall of Famer Tonight: Chico,

Looking forward to seeing Greg Maddux take on the Nats? Should be a good draw and fun to watch. Usually when Maddux pitches the games go fast. He used to polish them off in around 2 hours - sometimes under. Enjoy.

Chico Harlan: Yes, Maddux is great to watch. Just great. By the way -- and I'll leave you with this little nugget, because we're running out of time with this chat -- the last pitcher before Maddux to throw a game in DC was... yes, Walter Johnson, who last pitched in the District against the St. Louis Browns on Sept. 27, 1927.


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