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Wednesday, Sept. 10 at 2 p.m. ET

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Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 10, 2008; 2:00 PM

Washington Post Nationals beat writer Chico Harlan was online Wednesday, Sept. 10 at 2 p.m. ET to take your questions and comments about the Washington Nationals.

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A transcript follows.

Discussion Archive.

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Chico Harlan: Well, I just sat down in the press box here at Shea for the Final Ever Game between the Nats and Mets. Bring on the sentimentality. The Mets' new ballpark is sprouting up just beyond the outfield fence here, so we can see what the future holds. The skies are sunny, and it's a pleasant day, but for the airplanes that blitz the sky every few minutes. (Shea and La Guardia are neighbors.)

Anyway, enough scene-setting. How about some questions?

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Alexandria, Va.: There are a lot of different stories about why Ayala needed a change of scenery. Some personal, but many about his frustration with being passed over for the closers job and some about him being uncomfortable in the clubhouse. Can you shed any light on what really happened?

Chico Harlan: Ayala became a headcase here, and I think some of that is fairly attributed to his dissatisfaction with his role after Chad Cordero went down. Ayala and Rauch, let's say, were not the best of friends. When Rauch was given the closer's job, Ayala wanted it.

Problem was, the more he pitched, the more evidence he gave that he couldn't handle such a responsibility. It started a downward spiral, and only a change of scenery, evidently, could get his head right.

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Alexandria, Va.: Next week, Rizzo and Bowden are appearing at an event for fans at ESPN Zone to talk about the team's offseason plans. Kasten, apparently, will not be there.

Do you make anything of that? Are they shifting Front Office roles around? Kasten will be back in 2009, right?

Chico Harlan: First of all, that ought to be a fascinating event. I'll definitely attend, just out of curiosity. I want to hear how Bowden and Rizzo present this team's offseason/future plans to the public.

Do not read anything into Kasten's absence. The team isn't using ESPN Zone appearances as a means to present clues about its future. Sometimes, John Lannan comes to these things and the other starting pitchers don't... Questions about Kasten's future with the team are warranted -- as are questions about Bowden's, given this team's record and recent tribulations -- but please, don't let this ESPN thing inflame the speculation.

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Vienna, Va.: Why is Manning still on this team? How much more does Acta need to see? Do you see any chance that Manning is going to be a solution to the role of left-handed specialist next year?

Chico Harlan: Manning has two problems: He gets behind way too many hitters, and he issues far too many homers. (Seven bombs in 36-1/3 innings.) But why is he on this team? Simple. The team doesn't have bullpen depth. So here come guys like Manning.

I am not gonna totally get on him for the job he's done this year. He's been mediocre, and at times serviceable. Before he got shelled last night, his ERA was 4.79. So yeah, I think there's a chance he'll be on the team next year. Certainly he'll have a chance coming out of spring training.

So far, Mike Hinckley has really impressed as a lefty reliever, but even now, the Nats have just two southpaws in their pen. So it's not like the team will pick between the two, necessarily. Lefties are a commodity.

One final interesting note about Manning:

Lefties are hitting .212 against him. Righties are hitting .209.

That he lets up so many runs is indicative of his tendency for walks. When he actually gets the ball over, he's not half-bad.

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Section 114, Row E: Chico,

Next year, I envision an outfield of Dukes, Milledge and Willie Harris (who needs to be resigned). I'd prefer another big stick like Adam Dunn over Harris.

But please tell me that somehow we won't have to suffer through another disappointing season of Austin Kearns.

Chico Harlan: If the team is heading into 2009 with Kearns penciled in as a starter, it's in trouble. The Nats need far more productivity out of the corner outfield spot that Kearns has shown capable of producing. This season has been a true disappointment for him. Some of that is related to injuries, but even when he was healthier, the power just wasn't there. Maybe, as with Guzman, a full season of perfect health will reveal him to be a different player. But even giving Kearns that opportunity is a tremendous risk. Finding a new RF will be a point of emphasis this offseason.

I like Harris, too, but he shouldn't be an everyday player. He's the perfect first-man-off-the-bench.

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Calvert County: Looking over the Nats minor league statistics throughout the summer, I saw very few pitchers who will ever make the big time. Is there anyone out there to prove me wrong or is my assessment correct? Name the players with any chance to make contributions to the big club.

Chico Harlan: Next year, you're talking about?

Jordan Zimmermann (who spent the bulk of this year with Class AA Harrisburg) will be given a chance to make the rotation out of spring training. Jim Bowden said as much.

Maybe -- though I think it's unlikely -- Shairon Martis (who's just 21) will impress enough to also merit a long look.

Detwiler is still unseasoned, and is only now finishing an up-and-down year in Class A. He's not yet ready.

But remember, one reason you don't see a real embarrassment of riches in the farm system -- and I'm talking about major-league ready arms for 2009... by all accounts, the org has a lot of pitching prospects in the lower levels -- is because the best have already been promoted. Lannan and Balester are already here. So let's just assume that Zimmermann, Lannan, and Balester are all in the rotation in April 2009 -- that's three pitchers all between 24-22.

Then, it's just a matter of showing they can do it.

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Prince William Co., Va.: Anything new going on the Triple-A affiliate dance? According to the Syracuse Post-Standard, the Onondaga County council yesterday declined to spend money for new scoreboards for the Chiefs and AHL's Crunch.

Many there believe the Mets will now turn to Buffalo, leaving Syracuse with the Nationals (which I wouldn't mind, but a prospect that frightens many central New Yorkers).

If that doesn't happen, I fear the Nats will lose the game of musical chairs and wind up in New Orleans again. If that happens, might the Lerners swallow their pride and buy the New Orleans franchise, with a goal of eventually moving it to Richmond? (Though I'm now hearing the Orioles may want to move their AA affiliation from Bowie to Richmond, and I'm not sure if the Nats could put a Triple-A team in Bowie.)

Chico Harlan: At least a few weeks ago, I recall hearing that Toronto also had its eye on Syracuse. (Funny, only because as an Orange alum, Syracuse -- the city, that is -- never seemed much like a place worth fighting for.) But yeah, if the Nats lose out on Syracuse, they'll probably wind up in New Orleans again. I don't see the Nats purchasing the franchise and moving them. That's a very rare move... I believe the Braves are the only MLB team that actually owns its affiliate.

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Yes pepper: Great story; perfect off day feature. Really well done.

washingtonpost.com: Nationals Sprinkle In Some Pregame Fun With Pepper: Old-School Game Helping Pitchers With Basic Skills

Chico Harlan: Thanks so much for the kind words! Really appreciate it.

And gotta love the pun in the headline. Gee, who woulda seen that coming?

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Chantilly, Va: I never expected Elijah Dukes to last the year, but he seems to have done fine (other than that one flare-up with Manny Acta). Will the Nationals be reevaluating or altering his support network in the offseason? That sort of progress must be a lot harder to evaluate than on-the-field skills.

Chico Harlan: The Nationals seem happy with the support system they have in place (one advisor is with Dukes at all times), and I'd imagine that is maintained. But as always, it's a delicate situation. The better Dukes looks as a player, the more imperative it becomes to make sure he can make it work off the field.

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Arlington, Va.: Am I am bad fan because I am rooting for the Nationals to lose the rest of their games? I really want that number one pick. I hear that pitcher from the Olympics is far better than anyone else available.

Chico Harlan: I don't think you should feel bad, actually. You won't be the only one hoping for losses. Listen -- the Nats, as you know, are a team where the future is what matters. The final games this year -- nice as it might be to win a few -- are basically inconsequential, but for the ways they help player development and evaluation. If the Nats can get Strasburg, they have secured THE player in next year's draft. Now I'm not the kind of guy to go crazy over a pitcher who hasn't yet graduated college -- remember, there are no guarantees with pitchers -- but I have yet to find somebody in baseball who's not enthralled by Strasburg's potential. He's that much better than everybody else in the 2009 draft.

In a strange way, it makes the stakes for these final weeks a little twisted. That series next week against San Diego is gonna be interesting.

(To comfort you, I don't think the players give a darn about Strasburg. They want to avoid the worst record, and they will be playing to win. They'll leave the losses-are-wins jokes to the rest of us.)

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Silver Spring, Md.: What are scouts, players, front office personnel on other teams saying about Dukes and Milledge? Clearly, they are not the same players that they were earlier in the season.

Chico Harlan: Let me summarize what I've heard about both:

Milledge -- steady progress; still shaky in CF but more adequate than he was; doing well hitting fourth when, ideally, he should be No. 6 or No. 7; a future 20-25 HR guy

Dukes -- has 30-30 potential; one of best arm's in baseball; patience at plate is perhaps most impressive tool, developed far better than most players have at that age... can be an all-star if he can control is off-the-field life and stay healthy.

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DC: Honestly Chico, why should we care anymore? I'm completely burnt out. So much hype and hope going into the season with the new ballpark, then we realized that there is a .380 ballclub under the emperor's clothes, and now the team starts winning games when they don't count, thus ruining our chance at the first pick. I, for one, am tuning out. If they are going to insult season ticket holders with this kind of ballclub, then I will remove my Nats jersey and don my Redskins jersey.

Chico Harlan: Now hold on... I'm not trying to talk you out of your Redskins jersey, but hope for the No. 1 pick isn't gone yet. Quite the opposite. The Nats are tied right now with San Diego for the league's worst record... Seattle is one game ahead. (Or behind? Whatever.)

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Playoffs: The Nats find themselves in the playoff (spoiler) chase again. I know they can't say it publicly b/c that would be seen as quitting, but do you get a sense of who they'd rather knock out more? The Mets/Figuero thing was much earlier in the year so I'm sure the team has moved on...hint, I'm hoping they'd prefer to knock out the Phils.

Chico Harlan: I'm guessing the Phils. Those games had some real fire. I can't wait for the next series between those two teams.

You're right -- the Figueroa thing happened so long ago that the embers lit that night have probably gone out.

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Arlington, Va.: Ref: 2009 Draft

Would the Nats be willing to pay say $ 7,000,000 in bonus money to Strasburg and another $ 3,000,000 for the No. 9A pick?

I hope so. What's your opinion?

Thank you.

Chico Harlan: I think the Nats will be lucky -- very lucky -- to ink No. 1 and No. 9A for just $10 million, as you suggest. The figure could well exceed that, especially if Strasburg is the first selection. They must be willing to pay what it takes, though. Repeating something like Crow can happen once a decade, but not twice in a row.

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Re: Dukes: Chico, based on his numbers and his potential, I think Dukes is the most logical guy to be a cleanup hitter on the current roster. If (big word here) Nick Johnson comes back and is healthy, I'd bat him third, Dukes 4th and Zimmerman 5th. But are the Nats reluctant to bat Dukes cleanup and put that pressure on him, given his past problems?

Chico Harlan: Yes, the Nats are reluctant to give Dukes too much to carry right now... and that's also the reason he's stuck in the corners of the OF, when there's no question he has the raw tools to be a fine CF. If Dukes can progress perfectly, I wouldn't be surprised to see him eventually switch OF spots with Milledge. But that won't happen for a while. Probably not next year, either.

I think the most likely No. 4 hitter next year is either Nick Johnson or somebody not on the roster. Dukes/Milledge, in whatever order, can hit No. 5 and No. 6

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Goodbye, Shea Stadium: Chico, I've never been there, but from what I've seen on TV, is anyone honestly going to miss it? Is there a worse sports facility in a major city in this country? The world?

Chico Harlan: Probably not, now that the Vet is gone.

When I was riding in a cab today to get here, the little TV monitor that NYC cabs have in the back was showing an advertisement to purchase seats from Shea as collector's items. And what did this ad happen to show as the LONE highlight from this stadium's history...?

A World Series celebration?

A Gooden strikeout?

A clip from the Amazins?

Nope, a ground ball rolling through Bill Buckner's legs.

I guess this is a place that just breeds misanthropy.

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New York: The Nationals cleverly spun the Crow non-signing as helping the team to acquire Strasburg. Now that the initial furor has clamed down, please explain to me why the Nationals are not pathological liars in this regard, as one has nothing to do with the other?

Chico Harlan: Wait, I don't understand. The Crow non-signing has nothing to do with Strasburg. Because they missed out on Crow, they have pick 9A next year. Strasburg will be available with the first pick, which will go to the team with the poorest record in 2008.

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Just a Fan: We do a lot of Nats bashing here, deservedly so. But I'll just put a plug in for the tour of the ballpark. It costs $15 and you get a cool walkthru of the dugout, media center (man that's high up in the clouds), indoor batting cages, suites, club level and bullpen. Well worth the time for any fan. And be sure to bring a camera.

Chico Harlan: Plug away. Just remember, if you're heading up to the press box, bring tissues for the bloody noses.

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Washington, D.C.: does Lastings Millege have any value to a contending team? I see his value in a Nationals uniform for the short-term, but once the Nationals become a contending team we need somebody else in the CF position and whatever hole in the line-up. What could we get for him in a trade?

Chico Harlan: Why trade Milledge? I see no reason whatsoever. Isn't he exactly the kind of player a rebuilding team would want to hang on to. He's young, he's already shown tangible evidence of talent, and he's likely to get better. If you traded him, what, exactly, would you be looking for, DC?

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Section Nosebleed (bringing the sherpas): Count me in the camp that wants us to finish at least 7-10 in the final games. Maybe it doesn't count for the playoffs but the final number, and the feeling that I have at the end of the season, count to me. I still have at least 4 more games to attend this season and I want to walk away from each having watched my Nats win. Finishing the final homestand and/or season with a win (or a string of wins) puts me in a good mood for the next season. It gives me hope. I'm looking for a strong finish, draft position be darned.

Chico Harlan: Interesting. I'll post somebody from the other school of though right after. This is a No Spin chat, so we'll be hearing from all viewpoints.

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Strasburg sweepstakes: like most fans, I'd like to have the number 1 pick, but I just don't see it happening. As mediocre as the Nats are, they just haven't given up yet. If we hadn't have retaliated against Utley last week or lallygagged that relay play from Dukes-Hernandez-Nieves last night (awesome by the way), the guys probably won't "mail it in" at all. SD and Seattle have absolutely nothing to play for.

Chico Harlan: I just wonder if Strasburg will be watching the SD-Was series.

Might be kinda cool to watch your future play out on a ballfield 3,000 miles away from your sofa.

Hopefully his TV package can pick up the MASN feed, and we can welcome him to the 9,000 Club.

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DC: Chico,

Thanks for all the hard work and staying interested during this losing season.

Just a suggestion for the Journal -- it would be interesting to see how all the ex-Nats are fairing on their new teams.

Chico Harlan: I like it. Chapter 1 can start in Florida with Paul Lo Duca.

Too bad the Nats don't play St. Louis for the rest of this season. I'd love to catch up with Felipe.

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Charlottesville, Va.: Have there been any hints from the Lerners as to how long they would put up with the "Plan" not getting results before they started holding people accountable?

Chico Harlan: No, they have given no hints, and that's not their way. They are very private when it comes to discussing the ballclub.

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Round Hill, VA: Has the increased hitting production been a result of a healthy Dukes and Zimmerman or the addition of the new hitting coach? Do you have any statistics for the before and after the coach was called up?

Chico Harlan: It's been the result of a healthy Dukes and Zimmerman. I feel certain that Rick Eckstein is a good hitting coach with plenty of knowledge, but he's been with this team now for just under two weeks or so. Statistics do indicate that Washington's offensive productivity has spiked since that began, but baseball is way too complicated to ever attribute such a difference to one guy. Especially for Zimmerman, this hot streak was bound to come once he finally regained his comfort at the plate. He's hit well before, even when Eckstein wasn't around.

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Washington, DC: You suggest Miledge's ideal spot is low in the order, 6thor 7th, but early in year, Milledge batted 2d and was effective at getting on base. 2d half of the year, he's had an OBP close to .350 that you'd like at the top of the order. With his speed, doesn't he profile as a top of the order guy with Damon-esque power?

Chico Harlan: A smart point, DC. I do think Milledge could project in the future as a No. 2 hitter. But next year, I anticipate that Bonifacio leads off an Guzman bats second. That's why I have Milledge lower in the order.

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Luis Ayala, NYC : So do you guys miss me yet?

Chico Harlan: I think the Nats are happy to have Anderson Hernandez, frankly. He's playing so well right now, the Mets can hardly recognize him. It's kind of fitting, actually. Both players only started performing once they left.

Perhaps that's just the definition of a good trade. Both teams are happy with what they got.

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Chico Harlan: Well, gotta run. That's all the time we have for today's chat. Just remember to set your DVR players for tonight's game. Some day, you'll want to sit your grandkids on your lap and tell them about Shea Stadium.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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