- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A dark cloud already hung over the Washington Nationals before they slogged their way through a rain-soaked evening at the ballpark. News of third baseman Ryan Zimmerman’s placement on the disabled list, perhaps for a prolonged period of time, greeted players as they arrived at Nationals Park.

By the end of a miserable night of baseball — a 6-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals sandwiched around two rain delays totaling two hours and 40 minutes — there wasn’t much reason for this club to feel good about itself.

Nothing went Washington’s way yesterday. The announcement of Zimmerman’s first career DL stint with a tear in his left shoulder was only the beginning. The remaining, ragtag squad that took the field last night — with five Opening Night lineup members now injured — looked every bit like a fill-in team.

Players committed errors, both physical and mental. Starting pitcher Odalis Perez allowed four runs in the first and was yanked after three innings with a shoulder injury that will cause him to miss his next start. And the majors’ least-productive offense lived down to its reputation, finally snapping its scoreless-innings streak at 22 but managing only one run and six hits off the Cardinals’ pitching staff.

“Right now, this team is not having a good time,” Perez said.

Not with an already crowded list of injured players growing by the day, leaving the remaining healthy players in a deep hole.

“I’m not going to lie, it’s tough,” second baseman Felipe Lopez said. “But guys that are out there, we’ve got to step it up. We’ve just got to get it done. Yeah, we’ve got a lot of people hurt. But still we’ve got to go out there and give 100 percent.”

The rain already had begun to fall when the Nationals took the field shortly after 7 p.m., and radar maps clearly showed heavier systems heading toward the District. Nevertheless, the Nationals — who as the home team had the authority to delay the game until the first pitch was thrown, after which the umpires took control — decided to get this one started.

Had they known what would transpire from that moment on, they might have taken a different tact. Playing a sloppy form of baseball befitting the sloppy conditions, Washington dug itself into a 4-0 hole before sending a batter to the plate.

Perez (2-5) got the evening off on an appropriate note, plunking leadoff man Brian Barton on an 0-2 count. Two batters later, the veteran lefty fielded a comebacker from Albert Pujols and inexplicably turned to throw to second even though Barton was going to reach with no trouble. Lopez took the throw in front of the bag, then dropped the ball and threw late to first, leaving everyone safe and getting charged with an error in the process.

The next batter, Ryan Ludwick, lined a base hit to left, which skipped off the grass and right past Ryan Langerhans’ glove. Barton scored on what was originally ruled a single and an error on Langerhans but was later changed to a double.

Regardless, the atrocious play drew some rousing boos from the crowd of 26,875, which only grew in volume when Yadier Molina later crushed a pitch from Perez into the left-field bullpen for a three-run homer that made it 4-0.

“We had one ugly inning there, and it turned out to be a long night,” manager Manny Acta said.

Then came the news that Perez’s left shoulder felt tight. He admitted later he had been dealing with the ailment for a couple of weeks, but this was enough to force him from last night’s game.

“It’s been bothering me since, let’s say, three starts back,” Perez said. “I’ve been battling. But today I couldn’t hold it no more.”

Acta said Perez will miss his next scheduled start Sunday against the San Francisco Giants, but the left-hander is hopeful he won’t miss any more than that.

“That’s what the doctor says,” the pitcher said. “I think I’m going to miss one and see what happens from there.”

Acta said the club hasn’t decided who will replace Perez in the rotation.

Perez was already out of the game when the first cycle of heavy rain came in the top of the fourth, forcing both teams off the field and the grounds crew into action. Though the skies cleared about an hour later, it still took the crew nearly 45 minutes to get the field back into playable shape.

They managed to get only 16 minutes of action in before another downpour struck, leaving everyone scurrying for cover. At that point, the Cardinals led by five runs and needed only six more outs to be recorded for the game to become official.

The second delay totaled 49 minutes, and mercifully the two teams were able to complete the remainder of the game in its entirety without further interruption.

“It’s one of those things that comes up every now and then,” third baseman Aaron Boone said. “But it’s all part of being a professional. Obviously you’re behind. You have the long rain delays. The field’s not ideal. But we can’t let that affect us. And I don’t think it did.”

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