- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 3, 2008

MIAMI | Odalis Perez was cruising along, well on his way to what was shaping up to be a complete game and an impressive victory for the Washington Nationals.

And then the sky opened up and helped wash the Nationals out of South Florida with another loss to contemplate.

A one-hour, 35-minute rain delay in the bottom of the seventh Wednesday prematurely ended Perez’s brilliant afternoon and forced manager Manny Acta to turn to his beleaguered bullpen to try to hold a slim lead over the Marlins. The end result: Left-hander Charlie Manning served up a two-run homer to Alfredo Amezaga, sending Florida to a 4-2 victory.

“Sometimes you cannot control things,” Perez said. “You’re pitching well, and then God wanted the rain to come down, and I had to be pulled out of the game.”

The clouds have hung over the Nationals for more than three months now, never more so than during this series at Dolphin Stadium. Washington (34-52) lost two of three but could have swept the second-place Marlins had a couple of relievers made a few better pitches.

Monday night’s 6-5 loss featured a pair of solo homers off closer Jon Rauch, one in the ninth and another in the 10th. Wednesday’s included the aforementioned blast by Amezaga, Florida’s No. 8 hitter and owner of 10 homers in 1,103 career at-bats entering the game, off Manning.

“We gave away a couple of games,” said Paul Lo Duca, who drove in both of Washington’s runs with a second-inning single. “It’s been like that the whole year. It seems like we’ve had a whole lot of wins that we’ve given away. It’s just tough.”

Perez couldn’t be blamed for this defeat. In his second start back from shoulder tendinitis, the veteran left-hander held the Marlins scoreless through five before allowing a run in the sixth. He retired two of the first three batters he faced in the seventh, and with his pitch count at 77, “he looked like he could have gone all the way,” Acta said before adding, “if not for the rain.”

A thunderstorm then swooped through the stadium. The crowd fled for cover, and the grounds crew scurried to get the infield tarp secured.

The delay killed any chance of Perez returning to the mound - “No chance,” Acta said. “The guy’s just coming back from the DL.” - so the manager turned to the less-heralded members of his bullpen. With Rauch unavailable after pitching three straight days and stalwarts Saul Rivera, Luis Ayala and Joel Hanrahan overworked themselves, Acta entrusted the game to Manning.

The rookie left-hander had struggled against the bottom of the Marlins’ lineup Tuesday night, allowing a pair of runs, and they victimized him again Wednesday. Manning left a 1-1 fastball over the plate and watched as Amezaga crushed it to left for the game-changing homer.

“It’s two bad games in a row,” said Manning, who sports an 0-2 record with a 4.96 ERA in 20 appearances. “I’ve just got to forget about it, go on to Cincinnati and do [my] job there. That’s what I’m trying to think of.”

Before heading north for this weekend’s series against the Reds, though, Manning apologized to Perez for blowing the game.

Perez told Manning there was no need to apologize.

“He feels bad. But I will say, things happen in the game,” Perez said. “Sometimes, he’s going to come in and he’s going to get two or three outs. And sometimes he’s going to come in and not do the job. No one is perfect. Things happen in the game.”

- The Nationals expect to activate Austin Kearns off the 15-day disabled list before Thursday’s series opener against the Cincinnati Reds. Kearns, out since May 22 with bone fragments in his right elbow, hit .462 (6-for-13) with six RBI and three extra-base hits in four rehab games for Class AAA Columbus and was due to play one last game for the Clippers on Wednesday night. With Kearns back in right field, Acta said Elijah Dukes will become his regular left fielder. …

Left-hander Matt Chico will need reconstructive “Tommy John” surgery on his elbow, a procedure that will sideline him for at least a year. Chico went 0-6 with a 6.19 ERA in 11 games for the Nationals this season before getting demoted to Columbus. He appeared in only one game with the Clippers before the team shut him down with a sore elbow.