- The Washington Times - Monday, July 30, 2007

NEW YORK — The rain started falling even before John Maine delivered his first pitch yesterday at Shea Stadium. It intensified as the afternoon wore on, and by the time Washington Nationals reliever Chris Schroder slipped trying to throw an 0-1 pitch to Ramon Castro in the fifth inning, the conditions had become unplayable.

Plate umpire Mike Winters signaled for the grounds crew to bring out the tarp, and the Nationals and New York Mets retreated to their respective clubhouses for the long wait to hear the words everyone figured would be coming.

Game called.

“You knew it was only a matter of time,” left fielder Ryan Church said.


Thus, Washington was forced to end a relatively successful road trip on a sour note, 5-0 losers to the Mets in a game that just barely lasted the requisite 4½ innings. Given the way the Nationals slogged their way through the game up to that point, there was little reason for the team to get upset about not getting the chance to stage a comeback.

“It’s not a good scenario out there,” manager Manny Acta said after waiting out a 79-minute delay. “The umpires did the best they could. Yeah, it’s too bad, but it’s very tough to wait it out on a day like this.”

Little good came out of what baseball was played before an announced crowd of 47,264. Billy Traber, thrust once again into a starting role he’s not equipped to handle, was roughed up for five runs in only 32/3 innings. Washington’s lineup, meanwhile, barely put up a fight against Mets right-hander Maine, who allowed a first-inning single to Ronnie Belliard and then retired 14 straight batters before the game was called to improve to 12-5.

“John is turning the corner,” said Acta, who coached the Fredericksburg, Va., native last season in New York. “He’s going to be a good pitcher for a lot of years to come.”

The same might not be true of Traber, who faces an uncertain future after another poor outing.

The left-hander’s afternoon got off to a rough start and only got worse from there. Jose Reyes opened the game with a double to left, then scored moments later on Lastings Milledge’s single up the middle.

Another leadoff double by Reyes in the third led to another run for the Mets, and by the time Castro crushed a two-run homer to center in the fourth, Traber’s fate was sealed.

With eight hits and two walks allowed, Traber continued his longstanding trend for struggling as a major league starter. In 28 career starts with the Nationals and Cleveland Indians, the left-hander is 7-13 with a 6.32 ERA.

Contrast that with Traber’s career numbers in relief — 5-1 with a 3.49 ERA in 46 games — and it’s clear whatever future he has in the big leagues will come out of the bullpen.

“We appreciate what he has done, but I think you guys know how I feel about him,” Acta said. “I think he’s better suited to pitch out of the pen as a left-handed specialist.”

Acta has had this conversation with Traber, citing the long-term success lefty specialists such as Jesse Orosco and Tony Fossas enjoyed as examples of what could be.

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