- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 13, 2008

It was bound to happen sooner or later, as long as the Washington Nationals kept losing games.

This franchise can preach patience, but general manager Jim Bowden won’t let this early season rut continue without making a change.

So there were numerous moves following yesterday’s 10-2 loss to the visiting Atlanta Braves, the Nationals’ ninth straight defeat — their worst stretch since arriving in the District in 2005.

The team optioned right-hander Jason Bergmann, who has surrendered 11 runs over his last three innings, to Class AAA Columbus.

Washington activated closer Chad Cordero activated off the 15-day disabled list, and he will be available to pitch out of the bullpen beginning today.

And Wily Mo Pena likely will be activated off the DL and start in left field for today’s series finale.

Whether the roster shakeup will produce Washington’s first victory in 11 days remains to be seen. But at 3-9, Bowden felt something had to be done.

“When you do it at the beginning of the year, it’s always magnified, and it’s always blown out of proportion,” he said. “And rightfully so, because we’re all living it. Nobody likes to lose this many games in a row. You’ve just got to fix it. You’ve got to start winning.”

The Nationals had a slim chance of winning yesterday’s game, in which a boisterous crowd of 32,532 endured a 91-minute rain delay before the first pitch and then watched starter John Lannan put his team in a 4-0 hole before it had a chance to bat.

It went downhill from there. Bergmann, who allowed seven runs in his final inning Wednesday against the Florida Marlins, came in from the bullpen and in two innings allowed four more — including back-to-back homers by Jeff Francoeur (who earlier had a three-run homer and a two-run single) and Brian McCann.

Atlanta starter John Smoltz baffled Washington’s lineup with six innings of one-run ball. The Nationals compounded their offensive struggles with careless mistakes in the field.

“I don’t think anybody was pleased with how things went today,” Nationals right fielder Austin Kearns said.

The Nationals can only hope the forthcoming roster moves will inject some life into their season.

Said catcher Paul Lo Duca: “You could bring a squirrel in here, and he’s going to do better than we’ve been playing. You’ve got to do something.”

Pena’s return from a strained oblique muscle could have a significant impact on a lineup that is collectively hitting .230 this season. He still misses more often than he connects, and he will have had only two at-bats during an abbreviated rehab assignment with Columbus, but his presence gives Washington a much-needed threat of power and production.

“Right now, we need a guy like him that can intimidate and get up to the plate and maybe take a swing and make everybody jump,” manager Manny Acta said.

Likewise, Cordero’s return from right shoulder tendinitis should have a positive effect on the Nationals’ bullpen. Acta said Cordero probably will ease his way back into the closer’s job, but it won’t be long before he’s back pitching the ninth inning.

“I’m excited,” Cordero said. “Hopefully I can get in there tomorrow. My arm feels good. It feels a lot better than it did when I went on the DL.”

Bergmann experienced a swift decline from the starting rotation to minor leaguer. The team hadn’t optioned the 26-year-old right-hander to Class AAA since 2006, but his early season performance — an 11.68 ERA and five homers allowed in 12 1/3 innings — left the organization with no choice.

“He needs to go down there and get himself right and get back over here,” Acta said.

Bergmann understood the decision.

“When you don’t throw well and the team’s losing, somebody’s got to take the hit,” he said. “It’s hard to stay here. You’ve got to remain mentally sure. I’m confident I’ll pitch well when I go down there and get back up here.”

The remaining Nationals players need to play better, or they could be sent down next.

“It’s going to have to change,” Bowden said. “Or we’ll make more changes.”

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