- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 3, 2007

If he had to retire only three San Diego Padres hitters in the first inning last night, Levale Speigner might have been on his way to his first effective performance since moving into the Washington Nationals’ starting rotation.

But the Nationals misjudged two pop flies and had an errant force-out throw — although none were scored as errors — helping San Diego post six first-inning runs in an 11-3 rout before 21,635 at RFK Stadium.

“[Speigner] had to basically make six outs and that’s why we lost the ballgame,” manager Manny Acta said. “If it wasn’t because of that inning, the kid would have gone the five innings we wanted from him and maybe more.”

Instead, Speigner (1-2) departed after four innings. Although he didn’t make it official, Acta made it sound like Speigner’s spot in the rotation is safe for the time being.

“He held his own after the first,” Acta said. “He could have crumbled and made a bigger disaster of the outing but he gave us three more good innings, which saved our bullpen.”

With Speigner and reliever Billy Traber keeping the Padres in check, the Nationals got back in the game with a three-run sixth highlighted by Dmitri Young’s two-run homer. But San Diego scored three seventh-inning runs to blow the game open.

In the fateful first, the Padres sent 11 men to the plate and had only four hits. Speigner started the game by walking Marcus Giles on four pitches before his defense abandoned him.

Terrmel Sledge hit a pop fly to short center that fell for a single when Nook Logan took an initial step back and couldn’t make up the lost ground.

Asked if Logan had trouble with the twilight conditions, Acta said: “I don’t make excuses for my players, but if you want to make them, you’re welcome to. Nook misjudged the ball. I’m not going to talk about twilight or anything.”

Logan explained it by saying, “Big swing off the end of the bat.”

The next batter, Adrian Gonzalez, popped up to short left field. But trouble ensued again when left fielder Ryan Church and shortstop Cristian Guzman each thought the other had it — and the ball fell for a single to load the bases.

“That ball should have been caught,” Acta said. “It was up in the air forever and that’s Church’s ball and even Guzman could have caught it. … Both called for it and looked at each other. I’d rather see two guys collide trying to catch the ball instead of two guys looking at each other.”

Speigner struck out Mike Cameron but Kevin Kouzmanoff and Khalil Greene had run-scoring singles to make it 2-0. The final mistake came when Paul McAnulty’s hard-hit grounder was stabbed by diving third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who instead of going to first, went to second and his throw drew Felipe Lopez off the bag.

“I was going to second all the way,” Zimmerman said.

By the end of the first, Rob Bowen, pitcher Justin Germano and Giles all drove in runs.

“No matter what happens, it’s then on my shoulders to control the damage and that was the disappointment part of my outing — if I could have saved a run or two, it would have been important,” Speigner said.

Although his earned run average rose to 14.14 in his four starts, Speigner said he had better command of his repertoire.

“I was able to pitch in a little more effectively and that really set up my stuff away and that’s where most of my success came,” he said. “I’m encouraged by what I put together out there.”

Said catcher Brian Schneider: “It stinks because none of the [miscues] were errors. He deserved a better line than he got. Everybody watching the game knew what was going on and that he was pitching well. He came back and threw three really good innings.”

Germano (4-0), making only his fifth start of the season, held the Nationals to only four balls hit into the outfield and didn’t allow a runner past first base through five innings, before Washington posted a three-run sixth.

“He kept us off balance,” Acta said. “He had a really slow breaking ball and had some movement on his fastball. It was a lesson for a lot of these guys. I saw two guys tonight throwing 68 miles per hour. And they were getting people out. That shows how much location and pitching ahead means in this game.”

Germano struck out only one batter and allowed shortstop Greene and second baseman Giles make a slew of plays.

The Nationals had 29 hits in their last two games but only eight against Germano and the Padres.

“He just threw strikes,” Schneider said. “He’s had some success but we didn’t make the right adjustments until it was a little too late.”

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