Saturday, July 7, 2007

The Washington Nationals’ future was on display at RFK Stadium last night. Ross Detwiler, a 21-year-old left-hander drafted sixth overall last month, formally signed his first professional contract and spent the rest of the evening doing interviews with every media outlet in town, waving to the crowd and throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.

These days, the Nationals don’t have much else to tout other than what they hope will be a bright future. But the present has turned ugly, and last night’s 6-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers was only the latest example.

Washington (34-52) is limping its way into the All-Star break, having now lost nine of its last 11 games. A team that only a few weeks ago was being lauded for exceeding expectations is suddenly falling well below them and is running out of time to turn it around before the break.

“I think it’s a little too late,” manager Manny Acta said. “Unless we get two shutouts and 20 hits in the next two games.”

Last night’s loss, coupled with the Reds’ win over the Diamondbacks, leaves the Nationals tied for the worst record in the major leagues, a disappointing vantage point for a team that was taking pride in proving its doubters wrong.

“We’re not worried about our record or anything,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “We just want to win one game at a time and play good. That’s it.”

The problem is that Washington can’t hit the ball with any consistency. Despite totaling 11 hits last night off Milwaukee starter Dave Bush and three relievers, Acta’s team managed only two late runs, the 12th time in 13 games it has failed to score more than three runs.

“We all know what’s going on,” Acta said. “We’ve just got to score some more runs. That’s about it. I’m pretty satisfied the way the pitchers are going about their business, and the guys are giving me the effort. But it is what it is. We just can’t score any runs right now.”

The Nationals’ offense was at a disadvantage all night, forced to try to rally from a 4-0 deficit before it ever had a chance to pick up a bat.

The Brewers wasted no time jumping all over Nationals starter Mike Bacsik. Ryan Braun, the NL rookie of the month in June, hit a 2-1 pitch to left for a solo home run to get things started.

Prince Fielder singled to left. Johnny Estrada followed with a ground-rule double over the wall in left-center. Kevin Mench then drove everyone in with a towering, three-run homer to left on a 3-2 fastball out over the plate.

“I’m disgusted with myself right now,” Bacsik said. “Because I felt good. I felt healthy. And then I go out there and throw some stupid pitches in situations, and then I don’t execute the pitch. Even if it was the right pitch, I didn’t execute it, and that led to the home runs.”

Coming off his first win in more than a month, Bacsik (2-6) reverted back to his old ways. He surrendered a run in the second on Corey Hart’s triple and J.J. Hardy’s single, then got taken deep again by Braun in the fifth. By the time he left, he had been tagged for six runs and eight hits in five innings, raising his ERA to 5.20.

“I’m pretty [ticked] off right now,” he said. “It’s going to be a while until I get the ball again.”

The Nationals must decide whether to bring him back next week. A stable of young pitching prospects, including Joel Hanrahan, Emiliano Fruto, John Lannan and Collin Balester, is waiting in the wings, but Acta insisted last night those players aren’t close to a promotion.

“We’re not going to be changing our mind after every other start,” the manager said. “[Bacsik] did a great job the other day in Pittsburgh to stop our losing streak. I’m not going to try to run him out of town right away, unless something a lot better comes up.”

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