- The Washington Times - Monday, August 27, 2007

DENVER — For those who didn’t have an opportunity to watch the Washington Nationals‘ entire weekend series against the Colorado Rockies, Ryan Zimmerman would be happy to summarize.

“The first game we should have won,” the Nationals’ third baseman said. “The second game we just ran into a good pitcher. And today they just beat us.”

“Beat” may be too kind. The Nationals were hammered by the Rockies yesterday during a 10-5 loss that was over by the time right-hander Joel Hanrahan gave the home team an eight-run lead in the third inning.

Despite their best efforts to mount a late rally, the Nationals limped out of town stinging from a three-game sweep that probably didn’t have to be. Had Washington managed not to blow a 5-1, ninth-inning lead Friday in astounding fashion, the tone of the weekend might have been different.

Instead, the Nationals (58-73) helped Colorado get back into the National League wild-card race, losing their seventh straight game at Coors Field in the process.

Following the Friday night debacle, Washington was overpowered by rookie right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez during a 5-1 loss. Yesterday’s finale before 24,086 turned ugly almost immediately, with Hanrahan getting battered for nine runs in only 22/3 innings.

The 25-year-old right-hander had impressed club officials through his first five starts, entering this game with a 3-1 record and 3.42 ERA. But the Nationals have known all along that Hanrahan, who possesses a mid-90s fastball and good breaking balls, was plagued by control problems throughout his minor league career. That side of the young pitcher was on display for all to see yesterday.

“He couldn’t throw strikes,” manager Manny Acta said. “Just complete lack of command.”

Staked to a 1-0 lead before he took the mound — thanks to Zimmerman’s first-inning homer off Elmer Dessens — Hanrahan gave the run right back, allowing a two-out double to Matt Holliday and a subsequent RBI single to Todd Helton.

That would be a recurring theme all afternoon: Hanrahan gave up all nine of his runs with two outs. He issued four walks in the second inning, avoiding catastrophe when Zimmerman made a sprawling catch of Helton’s pop foul along the third-base wall to strand the bases loaded.

And he came completely unglued during a six-run third, walking Dessens for the second time in about 30 minutes and later serving up a two-run homer to Holliday that ended his day.

“I just didn’t have anything working for me,” said Hanrahan, whose ERA skyrocketed to 5.90. “You can’t make any excuses for what happened today. It was just an ugly day.”

It’s only one blip on Hanrahan’s otherwise solid pitching record, but it could be enough to make club officials reconsider how he fits into the long-term picture. If nothing else, the right-hander’s next few starts will be monitored closely as the Nationals try to determine whether he should be in the mix for a job next year.

“Some people have made a good impression and have made themselves a part of the plan,” Acta said. “And then some people are going to be able to just weed themselves out. We’ve got a month to go. The kid has a good arm. He had some good outings. He’s not out of it just because he had a bad outing today.”

The Nationals, though, were out of this game by the time Hanrahan departed. Trailing by eight runs, they were held in check by journeyman Dessens, who earned his first win as a starter since April 25, 2004, and couldn’t mount a rally until it was too late.

Washington scored four runs off ex-teammate Ramon Ortiz during garbage time, getting a two-run homer from Ryan Church and a two-run double from Austin Kearns to cut the deficit in half.

Kearns’ biggest contribution of the day, though, came much earlier when he robbed Brad Hawpe of extra bases with one of the season’s finest defensive plays.

Hawpe drilled a shot to right in the third inning, leaving Kearns spinning around as he tried to keep an eye on the ball on his way to the warning track. Kearns made an over-the-shoulder catch a split-second before he slammed face-first into the wall, earning a nice round of applause from the Colorado fans for his effort.

“I actually didn’t even think I was that close to the wall,” he said. “Just as soon as I turned around, I hit it.”

Kearns showed no visual wounds from the play, and he insisted he felt fine as he packed his bags and prepared to join his teammates for the conclusion of this road trip in Los Angeles.

“I’m pretty hard-headed,” he said.

The rest of the Nationals only can hope to share Kearns’ ability to shake off a blow to the head as they try to recover from a difficult weekend in the Rocky Mountains.

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