- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 24, 2008

CHAT EXCERPT

Each Wednesday beat writer Mark Zuckerman answers fans’ questions on washingtontimes.com. To submit a question, e-mail natsmailbag@washingtontimes.com and read his responses at video1.washingtontimes.com/natsmailbag.

From Mike in Fredericksburg:

Thanks for the great coverage of the Nats. Our starting pitching has been surprisingly good to me this year, but the bullpen, which has always been a strength of the team, has been a weak spot with several runs allowed and a handfull of blown saves. Should i be worried?

Mark Zuckerman:

You absolutely should be worried. I think the bullpen’s overall performance has been the most surprising aspect to this young season. I can’t reiterate how much Cordero’s absence/struggles make a difference. Even if Chad isn’t pitching great and blowing some saves, his presence allows the rest of the pen to fall into place. Rauch is a good eighth-inning guy, not a good closer. Ayala and Rivera are good middle-inning guys. King should be facing only lefties, but Manny Acta hasn’t been able to use him like that.

From Mr. Madison in New Carrollton:

Do you see any problem, any problem at all, with a catching corps of Jesus Flores as the starter, and Wil Nieves as the backup? I don’t see much wrong with that, and in fact I think our current catchers (Estrada more so than Lo Duca) could end up being deadline trade bait, if Flores puts up the numbers in Columbus. Whaddya think?

Mark Zuckerman:

I believe there will be a lot of trade talk later this summer involving both Lo Duca and Estrada, assuming the Nats are still struggling as a whole and not stunningly in a pennant race. Whether one or both will be traded remains to be seen — Bowden’s not going to give away anyone. But I’ve believed from the beginning that Jesus Flores could very well be this team’s regular catcher come August.

BY THE NUMBERS

8 — times already this season the Nationals have faced former 20-game winners (Tim Hudson three times, John Smoltz twice, Tom Glavine, Jamie Moyer and Johan Santana).

TONIGHT’S GAME

Mets LHP Oliver Perez

Record, ERA: 2-0, 2.49

Nationals RHP Shawn Hill

Record, ERA: 0-0, 7.20

Time: 7:10 p.m. TV: CH. 20 HD, MASN HD

— Mark Zuckerman

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