- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 12, 2005

VIERA, Fla. — Washington Nationals pitcher Zach Day, who allowed six runs in two innings yesterday against the St. Louis Cardinals, insisted his performance wasn’t as bad as it looked.

“My arm felt good, arm strength felt better than last time out,” Day said. “Just inconsistent, I’d throw a good pitch down in the zone and leave one up.”

In his second spring start, Day was charged with just three earned runs because the Nationals committed two errors in the first inning.

“I’m not happy with the performance, there’s no way I would be and I’m not going to walk out of this clubhouse being happy with giving up six runs,” Day said. “I’m frustrated, but it’s going to make me work harder and try and get where I need to be.”

Although it’s risky to read too much into a bad — or good — exhibition outing, this was Day’s second straight subpar performance, which might be a concern.

Day allowed four hits, including back-to-back home runs in the second inning by David Eckstein and So Taguchi. He threw 48 pitches, walked two and struck out one. Day now has a 9.00 ERA.

This was the first time backup catcher Gary Bennett has caught Day. Early in the game, Day came off the mound to make sure he and Bennett had their signs straight. Apparently, they did not.

“He put down a slider, and I don’t have a slider,” Day said. “I’ve never thrown to him before, so it’s kind of new for me. He’s trying to learn what I have — he probably called a little more outside fastballs than I’m used to throwing — but it’s something I’m going to work on and try and get better at doing. He’s trying to learn me, and I’m trying to learn how he likes to call a game.”

Manager Frank Robinson has said the 26-year-old right-hander is the front-runner to be the club’s fifth starter. But at least two other Nationals pitchers — Jon Rauch and John Patterson — are getting long looks and have been sharper. Patterson has given up one run on three hits in five innings, and the 6-foot-11 Rauch has allowed two runs on four hits in six innings.

In his first start Sunday against the Houston Astros in a split-squad game, Day allowed two runs on three hits in three innings.

“It’s not like the job is just being given to him,” regular catcher Brian Schneider said. “There’s some competition there, which is going to make him work harder. Anytime Zach sees what kind of job the other pitchers are doing, it’s going to raise his game, too.”

Said Day: “I hope [the other] guys do well. The better the guys do, the better the team is going to be.”

Day pitched in just 19 games for the Montreal Expos during an injury-plagued 2004 season, going 5-10 with a respectable 3.93 ERA.

Robinson would like to see Day as the club’s No.5 starter but also is considering using the 6-foot-4, 216-pounder out of the bullpen — an idea Day seemed to reject earlier.

“It’s not a lock,” Robinson said of Day starting. “We have some other guys that are throwing the ball better right now. We don’t have to make decisions like that right now. We’d be foolish to do that. We’re going to make decisions at the right time, and that’s down the road a little ways.”

Although his pitching has been spotty so far, Day continues to shine as an amateur artist.

“He’ll take any picture you give him and perfectly reproduce it with a pencil, shading and stuff,” Schneider said. “He’s very good.”

Of course, Day would rather show off his artistry on the mound.

“He’s got a great sinkerball,” Schneider said. “Anytime you’ve got a great sinker, there’s a lot of pluses there, and some minuses. The minuses would be just that sometimes it’s tough to control. If you’re a sinkerball pitcher and your sinker’s not working, you have to go with something else, and that is what Zach is learning right now.”

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