- The Washington Times - Friday, April 20, 2007

MIAMI — When Felipe Lopez led off last night’s game at Dolphin Stadium with a sharp single to left, the sense of anticipation in the Washington Nationals dugout might have been palpable.

Would this be the night Washington finally would score a first-inning run?


Even though Lopez moved into scoring position on Ronnie Belliard’s sacrifice bunt, the Nationals couldn’t drive him in. Ryan Zimmerman flied out to shallow right field, Dmitri Young struck out and this season’s most unusual trend continued for another game.

The Nationals have now played 17 games and still haven’t scored a first-inning run. They are the first National League team since the 1979 St. Louis Cardinals to do that, though they don’t seem to be preoccupied with it.

“At this point, we’re not even thinking about that anymore unless somebody brings it up,” manager Manny Acta said before last night’s game against the Florida Marlins. “Regardless of how many times we’ve scored in the first inning or not, we’ve got five wins, and we’re in the middle of the pack.”

Still, this streak of futility is tough to explain. It’s not as if the top of Washington’s lineup is full of unproven hitters. Three of the top four men in Acta’s lineup yesterday (Lopez, Belliard and Young) entered with batting averages over .280. The other, Zimmerman, was hitting .209 but is coming off a rookie season in which he drove in 110 runs.

Acta insisted he’s not going to go out of his way to try to push across an early run (even though he did have Belliard bunt last night).

“I mean, there’s only so many things you can do,” he said. “I’m not going to be sac bunting Zimmerman in the first inning if a runner gets on. I’m not going to do anything different.”

The Nationals’ first-inning troubles aren’t restricted to their offense. They have given up 20 first-inning runs, far more than in any other stanza.

“I don’t think our biggest problem has been that we haven’t scored early,” Acta said. “It’s that we have been scored upon.”

Marlins hurting

The Nationals came to town at just the right time. Marlins slugger Miguel Cabrera was out of the lineup last night and may miss the entire series with a strained oblique muscle. Meanwhile, right-hander Sergio Mitre, tomorrow’s scheduled starter, was placed on the disabled list yesterday with a blister.

Cabrera hurt himself swinging at and missing a pitch Wednesday. He said he doesn’t believe the injury is serious, but Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez may sit him the entire weekend for precautionary reasons.

King recovering

Reliever Ray King, on the 15-day disabled list with left shoulder tendinitis since April 11, will throw a bullpen session today and a simulated game Tuesday in Philadelphia. If all goes well, he could be activated in time to pitch next weekend’s series against the New York Mets at RFK Stadium.

“Everything feels good, loose and free,” King said. “Right now, it’s probably the best I’ve felt in two years.”

Want more Nats? Check out Nats Home Plate.

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