Good afternoon from Turner Field. I feel like I just left this place. Oh wait, I practically did. Last night/this morning’s game ended around 1:35 a.m. At least we’ve got a 7:05 first pitch tonight instead of an afternoon affair. That would have been a tough turnaround.
The Nats don’t care what time their next game is. They just want to win for a change. The vibe in the clubhouse is beginning to go from minor annoyance to serious anxiety. They may all be saying the right things about this being a long season and there’s 158 games to go still, but make no mistake, they want to win … now. The longer this losing streak drags on, the more it wears on them. And the absolute last thing they want is to come home for the Monday opener at Nationals Park with an 0-6 record.
In that regard, tonight’s game could be a pivotal one. It’s perhaps the first game so far this season in which the Nats should feel like they go in with an advantage in the pitching department. They’ve got ace John Lannan on the mound. The Braves send Japanese right-hander Kenshin Kawakami in his big-league debut.
You never know what you’re going to get from a foreign import in his first game in the U.S. Kawakami could absolutely dazzle, or he could wilt. The Nats did face him once this spring, so they’ve gotten a look at him and won’t be flying completely blind when they step to the plate tonight.
Also, Lannan is determined to bounce back after his ragged Opening Day start in Miami. I talked to him yesterday about the situation, and he believes he knows why he struggled (both in Monday’s game and in his spring finale against the Blue Jays). He was trying to overpower hitters, something that’s simply not part of his usual approach. Lannan is a control artist — he’s at his best when he pitches to spots in the strike zone, not when he lets loose and just tries to force the ball past a hitter. The lefty wasn’t sure exactly why he tried to become a power pitcher all of a sudden. He admits maybe he was amped up a little for his first Opening Day start. Rest assured, he expects to return to his usual self tonight and moving forward, relying on his regular arsenal of pitches to get batters out.
Here’s Manny Acta’s lineup. Note that Elijah Dukes is not in there. He tweaked his groin on the final play of last night’s game. We should have an update on his condition later this afternoon. It’s possible, though, that he wouldn’t have been in the lineup anyways, though he did go 3-for-6 last night and gun down a runner at the plate…
CF Lastings Milledge
SS Cristian Guzman
3B Ryan Zimmerman
LF Adam Dunn
1B Nick Johnson
RF Austin Kearns
C Jesus Flores
2B Willie Harris
P John Lannan
One final note, lest I forget: Congrats to Shawn Hill, who won his season debut with the Padres last night. Hill, released by the Nats in late-March, allowed two runs and seven hits in five-plus innings to beat the Giants. He actually entered the sixth having only surrendered three hits but started to fade as his pitch count went up to 69. “My arm strength isn’t quite where I want it to be,” he told reporters afterward. “I’d like to get stronger. I feel like I’m still playing catchup at this point.”