- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 20, 2007

THE WASHINGTON TIMES Jason Simontacchi has no illusions about himself. He knows what he is: a journeyman pitcher who had to battle through injuries and other obstacles just to make it to the major leagues.

But if there is one thing Simontacchi takes pride in, it is his ability to keep his team in ballgames. More often than not, he gives the Washington Nationals innings and gives his teammates a chance to win.

That’s why the 33-year-old right-hander was particularly down on himself last night following a nightmare performance in the Nationals’ 15-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers. In tying a franchise record with 10 runs allowed, Simontacchi put the Nationals into a colossal hole, one from which they had no chance to dig their way out.

“I’m a starting pitcher,” he said. “My job is to go out there and keep us in the game. I didn”t do that today.”

Simontacchi, who had allowed more than four earned runs only once in his previous eight outings, watched his respectable 4.84 ERA skyrocket to 6.31 by night”s end. His final pitching line looked like something out of a Division III college game: three innings, 10 hits, 10 runs, 10 earned runs.

“I should”ve been a BP pitching coach or something, I don”t know. A batting practice pitcher or something,” he said. “It”s just one of those games that anything I threw up, it was hit hard, see ya later. It was just ridiculous.”

Simontacchi“s 10 earned runs allowed matched a franchise record held by Expos right-hander Shayne Bennett, who gave up 10 to the Colorado Rockies in the only start of his major league career Aug. 15, 1999.

But the veteran hurler has been around long enough and been through enough blowouts to know the best remedy is a short memory.

“You know what? It happens,” he said. “So be it. … The sun will come up tomorrow.”

The Tigers — the defending American League champions — have been terrorizing opposing pitchers all season and after last night”s thumping lead all of baseball with a .295 team batting average.

“That”s the best team we have played so far,” Washington manager Manny Acta said. “They”re the best hitting team in the world. That”s a big-time club. It”s no coincidence that club was in the World Series, and I wouldn”t bet against them being there again.”

The one man who can truly appreciate the Tigers from a distance is Dmitri Young, the Nationals first baseman who spent the last five years in Detroit and knows firsthand just how talented a club it is.

“The only thing that can stop them from winning is themselves,” Young said. “They swing the bats extremely well. They”ve got the pitching. Barring injury, they may be the team to beat.”

Having now been pounded for 24 runs in two nights, the Nationals” pitching staff is battered and bruised. The good news is that a couple of injured pitchers are on the verge of returning, while several minor leaguers are making their case for promotion later this summer.

Jason Bergmann, statistically Washington”s best starter in April, will be activated off the 15-day disabled list Tuesday and will start against the Braves in Atlanta. Reliever Luis Ayala, meanwhile, will be activated Friday to make his first big league appearance since the end of the 2005 season.

Soon after, the Nationals hope to have John Patterson and Shawn Hill back. And even if both injured starters need more time, club officials are starting to turn their attention toward several top prospects who could make their D.C. debuts sooner than expected.

Yesterday, 22-year-old left-hander John Lannan (who opened the season at Class A) was promoted from Class AA Harrisburg to Class AAA Columbus. Fellow right-hander Collin Balester, the organization”s top-rated prospect, remains at Harrisburg but may not be far behind Lannan. And first-round draft pick Ross Detwiler appears close to signing a contract and beginning what could be a short trek through the minors.

Thus, the makeup of Washington”s pitching staff could change dramatically over the next few months.

“I think you could see [Lannan] here any day,” general manager Jim Bowden said. “I think you could see Balester here any day. I think Detwiler could be here any day. We”re trying to develop some pitching here as we rebuild.”

Until then, they will just hope to avoid more nights like last night.

“Thank God it only counts for one, and that”s it,” Acta said. “Shower, go home and be ready to play tomorrow again.”

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