- The Washington Times - Monday, April 9, 2007

There is no panic button stashed away inside the home clubhouse at RFK Stadium. No locked box with an abort code inside. No cabinet with a small hammer dangling from it and a message instructing players to “break glass in case of emergency.”

The Washington Nationals just completed a wretched homestand to open the season, capped by yesterday’s 3-1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, and anyone not employed by this club is ready to give up on 2007.

The Nationals don’t care. So what if they just got swept in four by the Diamondbacks to fall to 1-6 for the season? So what if their offense just went through an 0-for-30 stretch with runners in scoring position? So what if not a single Washington pitcher has taken the mound holding a lead in seven games this season?

“I laugh at people who hit the panic button after the first week,” right fielder Austin Kearns said. “Yeah, it hasn’t gone good; we know that. But if we hit the panic button after the first week, come August I guess you guys would expect to see guys hanging themselves or something.”

There are precious few positives for Washington to point to right now. Shawn Hill authored the first quality start by a member of the rotation yesterday, allowing just two runs in 62/3 innings. But it was a wasted performance because the Nationals’ lineup was stymied again, producing only one run for the third straight game and getting no-hit by ex-teammate Livan Hernandez through the afternoon’s first 52/3 innings.

“We’re going to be fine,” manager Manny Acta said, reiterating his upbeat message. “We’re not the only team that has started with one win in the first week of the season. Everybody goes through those stretches. We’re going at the beginning of the season. We’re going to reel off a few wins, too.”

Not yesterday. For the fifth time in seven games, Washington found itself trailing before one of its own batters even stepped to the plate. Hill (0-2) hung a first-inning changeup to Orlando Hudson, who promptly drilled it to right-center for an RBI double, advanced to third when Ryan Zimmerman couldn’t handle the relay throw and then scored on Eric Byrnes’ groundout.

Just like that, the Nationals were down 2-0 yet again, leaving a sense of dread among the announced 17,224 who withstood another frigid day at the ballpark to watch the home team lose.

This was nothing new, of course. The only time Washington has held a lead of any kind this season came at the end of Wednesday’s game, when Dmitri Young blooped a bases-loaded single to left to beat the Florida Marlins 7-6.

How much could this team use an early lead for once?

“I don’t even know what that is,” center fielder Ryan Church said.

At least the Nationals managed to keep themselves in yesterday’s game, thanks in no small part to Hill, who shook off the first-inning blues to keep Arizona scoreless through the rest of his outing.

“I’ve just got to avoid that first inning again,” said Hill, who gave up four runs in the opening inning of his previous start. “We’re still falling behind and digging ourselves a hole, me digging a hole for the team. It’s tough to play from behind every day.”

It’s even tougher when the opposing pitcher refuses to give up a hit.

Local fans had seen Hernandez dominate the opposition plenty of times in his 1 seasons in a Washington uniform, but they never saw him flirt with a no-hitter. No one really came close to breaking through against the big right-hander until Zimmerman finally doubled to right with two outs in the sixth.

Hernandez (1-0) wouldn’t let himself ponder the possibility of a no-hitter against his old team.

“No, I never think of that,” he said. “You’ve got to be lucky. … When I go to the mound I don’t think about that.”

The Nationals tried to mount a late comeback against Hernandez, putting two men on with none out in the seventh. But Robert Fick and Dmitri Young flied out, and Brian Schneider grounded out to extend the club’s abysmal streak at the plate with runners in scoring position to 0-for-30.

The streak finally was snapped in the eighth, when Zimmerman doubled and Kearns singled him home off reliever Brandon Lyon. The rally fizzled there. With the bases loaded and two outs, Fick flied out, the Nationals went quietly and all those doomsdayers out there moved a step closer toward pressing that panic button.

“There’s been a lot of teams that have started a lot worse than this and turned out OK,” Zimmerman said. “So there’s really no reason to panic or to change anything. We’re hitting the ball good. We’re pitching well. We just need to play a little better defense, I think, and do a couple little things right, and we’ll be fine.”

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