- The Washington Times - Monday, June 9, 2008

Some days, when Washington Nationals manager Manny Acta is stuck combating a string of losses by holding on to optimism for the future, it’s easier to see it in person.

Garrett Mock provided that for four innings Sunday, his big league debut doubling as a momentary diversion for a team badly in need of some escapism.

Taking the mound on a day in which the field temperature read nearly 105 degrees, the 25-year-old Texan cajoled the San Francisco Giants into hitting into three double plays, preserved a three-run Nationals lead through four innings and gave Acta reason to envision better days ahead.

“He didn’t unravel and start throwing balls all over the place,” Acta said after the 6-3 loss at Nationals Park. “They put the ball in play, and that’s how you get out of trouble. I like his demeanor. I like his presence. I think he’s going to be part of our future.”

But then like being jolted awake from a pleasant dream, reality caught up with the Nationals. Mock tired in the fifth. His velocity started dropping, pitches started drifting out of the strike zone and after he left the game the Nationals’ lead turned into a deficit with a ball hit off shortstop Cristian Guzman’s head.

“Not even the ball is bouncing our way right now,” Acta said.

The end result was the Nationals’ seventh loss in eight games and third in a row against the Giants.

Mock, called up Saturday to make a spot start after a doubleheader shuffled the Nationals’ rotation, was on his way back to Columbus with a taste of the majors and a dose of regret from watching his first big league win slip through his fingers.

“Since I became a professional, this is what I’ve been wanting to do,” Mock said. “I wasn’t near as nervous as what I thought I was going to be. But the business side of it, if the team gives you a three-run lead, you don’t go out and walk a couple guys. As far as rating my performance, it’s just a loss.”

Mock gave up six hits in the first four innings but managed to keep the Giants off the scoreboard. He gave up a leadoff single to Emmanuel Burriss to start the fifth and followed that by issuing a walk to Steve Holm.

There was no double play to bail him out this time.

He balked with Barry Zito at the plate, advancing the runners to second and third, then handed out two more walks to bring in a run before turning the ball over to Saul Rivera.

But Randy Winn tagged Rivera for a double. Then came Aaron Rowand’s grounder that hopped up, hit Guzman in the face and rolled all the way to the infield dirt behind first base.

By the time Aaron Boone retrieved it, the Nationals were down 4-3.

Their last chance to regain the lead came and went in the fifth inning when Wily Mo Pena grounded out with the bases loaded. The Giants added a pair of runs on John Bowker’s two-run homer off Joel Hanrahan - one day after Bowker’s first career grand slam - and Washington got just two runners on base after the sixth inning.

“You kind of need everything to roll your way when you’re struggling,” said Lastings Milledge, who hit his fourth homer of the year in the first inning. “I’m not going to sit here and say we’re playing excellent ball. But at the same time, we haven’t hit rock bottom. We just need a couple things to go our way and fight it out.”

That’s the kind of outlook that’s keeping Acta upbeat as the losses pile up. And before catching a plane back to Class AAA Columbus to make room for Tyler Clippard - who will be the second Clippers call-up in as many days to make a spot start Monday - Mock only wished he could have helped more.

“I know how to win,” Mock said. “Today, I didn’t execute the stuff that would have made our team win this game. It affirms the stuff that they teach us.”

SEEN AND HEARD AT NATIONALS PARK

The sweltering heat over the weekend didn’t stop the Nationals from wearing their alternate jerseys Saturday and Sunday against the Giants. Problem is those jerseys are red - and their normal home jerseys are white. It has become customary for baseball teams to wear alternate colors on the weekends, but when the heat index is over 100 degrees, does that really seem like a good idea?

- Ben Goessling

BY THE NUMBERS

5 Home runs Joel Hanrahan has given up in 39 2/3 innings this season

TODAY’S GAME

Giants RHP Matt Cain Record, ERA: 2-4, 4.67 Nationals RHP Tyler Clippard Record, ERA: 0-0, 0.00 Time: 7:10 p.m. TV: MASN

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