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Nats battered and bruised in opener

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If the last six months provided outside observers ample opportunity to spout off reasons why the Washington Nationals won't succeed this season, yesterday offered this beleaguered ball club a chance to show everyone why things might not be as bad as they think.

And then the Nationals took the field for Opening Day against the Florida Marlins and everything started falling apart. Staff ace John Patterson couldn't make it out of the fourth inning. Center fielder Nook Logan and shortstop Cristian Guzman couldn't make it out of the game healthy. And Washington could do nothing of consequence at the plate in a 9-2 loss at RFK Stadium.

In other words, this was the last thing the Nationals needed.

"It's not how you want to start the season," Patterson said afterward. "With so much doubt in the air and everything, it's easy to say, 'I told you so.' But we can't pay attention to that."

Washington's players probably won't think in those terms after just one loss, unsightly as it was. Still, on a gorgeous April afternoon that drew a surprisingly large crowd of 40,389 to RFK, it would be easy for the Nationals to feel like they just wasted a golden opportunity.

With the kind of buzz in the air only Opening Day can provide, the home team came out and quickly fell behind. Four batters into the game, the Nationals already were trailing, and by the time Florida slugger Miguel Cabrera launched an upper-deck homer in the fourth to make it 6-0, any last bits of positive energy still inside the stadium dissipated.

"The tone was set early," said Manny Acta, whose managerial debut was diminished by his club's lackluster performance. "You just don't want to be playing catch-up baseball right off the bat."

And it's also not ideal to be searching for replacements for two starting position players one day into a 162-game season. Acta now faces that dilemma after watching both Logan (hyperextended left foot) and Guzman (strained left hamstring) go down during yesterday's game.

Neither injury is believed to be major, but Acta suggested at least one of the two (likely Guzman) would be headed for the disabled list and the club would move quickly to recall a player from Class AAA Columbus (likely Kory Casto) to help soften the blow.

Logan, who nearly wasn't ready for Opening Day because of a right groin strain, hurt himself making a leaping catch at the fence of Dan Uggla's fourth-inning drive. The speedy center fielder caught his left foot in the wall and after limping for a few seconds had to go to the turf and wait for a trainer to assist him.

One inning later, Guzman (who missed all of last season with a torn right shoulder) barely ran down the line after hitting a grounder to third. Initially booed by the crowd for his apparent lack of hustle, he walked gingerly back to the dugout and was replaced in the field.

"It's just weird that we went the whole spring training and we were pretty much healthy coming out of Florida," Acta said. "And now, two guys go down."

By that point, the game was a lost cause. The Marlins were in control from the beginning, knocking around an ineffective Patterson for six runs and seven hits in 32/3 innings.

While Marlins lefty Dontrelle Willis thrived in the second Opening Day start of his career, Patterson was admittedly out of sync in his first career season opener.

The right-hander's velocity was down to the point his fastball rarely reached 90 mph, and his assortment of breaking balls rarely caught the strike zone. He surrendered one run during a laborious, 25-pitch first inning, gave up two more on Cabrera's second-inning double and was unceremoniously yanked by Acta in the fourth after serving up Cabrera's two-run homer into the left-field upper deck.

"I just didn't have any life on my fastball," Patterson said. "I've got to find some drive somewhere."

As troubling as the big hits were, Patterson's biggest problem was his lack of command. He issued walks to three Marlins, fell behind many others and kept putting himself in tough spots against Cabrera (3-for-4, four RBI) and Hanley Ramirez (4-for-6, four runs) because he couldn't locate his breaking balls.

"He needs to throw his offspeeds for strikes," catcher Brian Schneider said. "He knows it, and I know it. When you don't throw those offspeeds for strikes, what are you going to have to throw? You're either going to keep throwing balls or you're going to have to try to come with some fastballs."

Patterson's last fastball, an 88-mph pitch to Cabrera, proved to be his last of the day. Acta made the long stroll from the dugout to the mound, signaled for a reliever, patted his starter on the back and perhaps wondered how many more days like this he's going to have to endure.

"It's going to be a roller coaster, I think, for us this year," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "We're going to play real well at some points, and sometimes we may not play so well."

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