- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 23, 2006

As far as disappointments go, this was about as bad as it gets. The Washington Nationals didn’t just lose 10-3 to the Houston Astros last night; they did so in truly uninspiring fashion with a injury-plagued roster that deteriorates to new levels each day.

Where to begin with this one? How about with Zach Day, the right-hander who was pounded for six runs in 32/3 innings before leaving with a sore shoulder that landed him on the disabled list?

Or how about an offense that managed three hits off Wandy Rodriguez while allowing the Houston lefty to set his career high with seven strikeouts … by the fourth inning?

Don’t forget about the bullpen that issued six walks (two intentional), hit a batter, uncorked a wild pitch, committed a balk and saw one member (Jon Rauch) vomit in the clubhouse from food poisoning.

And if all that’s still not enough cause for embarrassment, how about the crowd at RFK Stadium, one that appeared to be significantly smaller than the announced total of 18,803, which already represented a record low for the franchise in Washington?

This was, after all, the same ballpark that bounced and swayed all weekend while the Nationals were winning two of three from the hated Baltimore Orioles. The only bouncing to be found last night came in the form of vacated seats snapping back into place, and the only ones swaying were the thousands of fans who wove their way through the aisles and concourses in mass exodus by the sixth inning.

The Nationals (16-29) simply don’t have the ability to carry success from one game to the next, and it’s driving them batty.

“I really don’t understand it,” manager Frank Robinson said. “The three ballgames we played against Baltimore, the crowd was excited. … You would think we’d come out here with a little more fire. But it seems like we don’t take adversity very well. We get down two or three runs in the first inning, it seems like the air goes out of our balloon. We just don’t have the energy or the pep or whatever.”

They also don’t have enough healthy bodies to give them much of a chance. Following last night’s game, Washington placed both Day and outfielder Alex Escobar (strained hamstring) on the 15-day disabled list, transferred right-hander Ryan Drese from the 15-day DL to the 60-day DL and called up a pair of relievers from Class AAA New Orleans (Saul Rivera and Santiago Ramirez) to replace them.

“Check the record and that will show you the toll [injuries have taken],” said general manager Jim Bowden, who has six pitchers (John Patterson, Luis Ayala, Brian Lawrence, Pedro Astacio, Drese and Day) on the DL.

Rivera and Ramirez will give Washington’s overworked bullpen a breather, but at least one of the two won’t be around more than a couple of days. The Nationals still need to find a pitcher to fill the No. 5 spot in the rotation, which Day had occupied.

Bowden acknowledged that right-hander Shawn Hill, currently at Class AAA New Orleans, is a possibility, but he also suggested a trade could be made before Day’s spot comes up Saturday.

Whether any of those prospects are ready to help the major league club is debatable, but they certainly can’t be much worse than the product that was on display last night — starting with Day (2-5).

After watching the sinkerball specialist and new batterymate Wiki Gonzalez struggle last week in Chicago, Robinson was hopeful the two would look more in-sync this time around. It became obvious from the start, though, that Day was not comfortable on the mound.

Three batters into the game, he already had given up a single, a stolen base and a walk, uncorked a wild pitch and served up a towering, two-run homer to Lance Berkman that landed in the second row of Section 455 — the first ball in two seasons to reach the upper deck in center field.

The Astros made it 4-0 in the third, then threatened again with two outs in the fourth when pitching coach Randy St. Claire decided to stroll to the mound for a little talk.

Moments later, St. Claire motioned toward the Washington dugout, the universal sign for: “Get me a trainer, stat!” Robinson joined Tim Abraham and the others in the middle of the diamond to confer with Day, and before long the right-hander trudged off as Rauch emerged from the bullpen to take over.

Day was diagnosed with tendinitis in his throwing shoulder, an ailment that may be related to the shoulder problems he complained about before he was let go by the Colorado Rockies last month. He will undergo a saline-enhanced MRI tomorrow, which should help pinpoint the problem.

“It’s really discouraging,” Day said. “It’s one of those things that’s been so up and down the last couple years. I just want to find out what the matter is, why this keeps coming back and what the reason is for it.”

The Nationals are asking themselves the same question right now: What’s the matter?

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