- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 28, 2006

TORONTO — A.J. Burnett could be pitching for the Washington Nationals. If only the Nationals had offered him more money. Or had a definitive owner and stadium plan at the time.

And, perhaps most important, if only the Toronto Blue Jays hadn’t offered Burnett such a big contract that it put all other teams out of the running.

So instead of pitching for the Nationals last night at Rogers Centre, Burnett did so for the hometown Blue Jays, mowing through hitters like the ace the Nationals desperately need.

The right-hander threw a shutout, winning his first game in nearly a year and leaving Washington shell-shocked following a 6-0 loss before 20,288.

“We couldn’t do anything with him,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. “I don’t know what the plan of attack was. I don’t know if we had one, to tell you the truth. If there is, we don’t carry it out very well.”

The Nationals, who have lost six of seven, had just six hits off Burnett (1-1).

A Washington lineup that was without expected cleanup hitter Daryle Ward — who along with reliever Mike Stanton was late to arrive in Toronto after experiencing weather-related flight delays — had little firepower and thus wasted a quality outing from starter Ramon Ortiz.

Ward’s absence was particularly distressing. One of the few Nationals swinging a hot bat lately, he was penciled in as Robinson’s designated hitter but was scratched once it became obvious he wouldn’t make it in time.

Ward, who like Stanton was given permission to spend Monday at home, suffered through a series of travel troubles, including driving to the wrong airport (Dulles, when he should have been at Reagan National) and then sitting on the tarmac for four hours because of heavy rains on the East Coast.

He didn’t finally make it to the ballpark until after 7:30 p.m. Robinson said both Ward and Stanton (who was not in the clubhouse following the game) are likely to be fined, even if they weren’t entirely to blame.

“There wasn’t much I could about it, but this is still my job and I’m supposed to be here,” Ward said. “I wouldn’t doubt it if [I get fined]. I was still able to make it, but I wasn’t able to make it to play. I was in the lineup, so that makes it even worse.”

The Nationals certainly could have used Ward’s bat. They needed all the help they could get against Burnett, who threw only 92 pitches (70 strikes) in his first win since Aug. 19, 2005.

It’s not like the Nationals didn’t know anything about him. After all, Burnett had made 13 previous starts against them while pitching for the Florida Marlins, including two dominant outings last season.

In fact, Washington general manager Jim Bowden liked him so much, he made the 29-year-old right-hander his top free-agent target last winter, hoping that Burnett’s wife (who is from Bowie) might convince her husband to return to the area.

The Blue Jays, though, came swooping in with a five-year, $55 million offer. And with the Nationals’ ownership and stadium situations still muddled, Burnett took the offer.

He hadn’t done much to earn the huge payday before last night, making just three previous starts to go along with two stints on the disabled list with a sore right elbow. But he sure looked worth the money last night.

Burnett had Washington swinging at everything he threw. He needed only six pitches to make it through the first inning, then got Nick Johnson to ground out on his first pitch in the second. Seven pitches, four outs.

“You had to be patient against him, and he didn’t let us be patient at all,” center fielder Marlon Byrd said. “He made us swing at his pitches. … We were waiting for him to start walking people. He just didn’t do it. He just kept pounding the strike zone.”

The trend continued. Even though the Nationals put men on base, with six hits through six innings, they didn’t advance them.

Ortiz? He needed 85 pitches to get through five innings, but he was nearly as effective. The right-hander made only two mistakes. Unfortunately, both resulted in home runs.

Aaron Hill connected first, hitting a hanging, 3-2 slider from Ortiz (5-6) to left and beyond a leaping Alfonso Soriano for a two-run homer in the second. Lyle Overbay followed suit in the sixth, crushing a 2-0 fastball into the second deck in right-center.

Ortiz has now gone winless in his last three starts, though his mind as been somewhat preoccupied by his wife, who is ill in New York. Doctors have not determined what she has, but Ortiz said he was given a good report yesterday.

Too bad Ortiz couldn’t give his family a good report after this game.

“I threw the ball well, but Burnett — wow,” he said. “The guy threw awesome tonight.”

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