- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 21, 2008

PHILADELPHIA | A 12-game losing streak should bring out anger, outbursts, infighting and sound-bite-filled tirades.

Stroll through the Washington Nationals‘ clubhouse these days, though, and listen to the silence. Don’t expect the postgame spread to be overturned. Don’t look for the manager to start spewing expletives.

Just look for a disappointed but calm ballclub that understands its travails may be just a necessary step in its long-range climb to success.

“We know what we’re in for here,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “It’s not like we have a $100 million team out there losing 12 in a row. We want to win just as much as any other team, but sometimes the other teams are just better.”

The other teams have played better than the Nationals now for two straight weeks. Wednesday’s 4-0 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies extended this slide to a dozen, tied for the longest losing streak in the majors this season.



Washington hasn’t won since its doubleheader sweep at Colorado on Aug. 7.

Since then, the losses have come in every manner and fashion, whether by blowout, by one run or somewhere in between. And after each one, Nationals players insist they’re not paying attention to the skid.

The focus remains on the present and the future.

“I think we’re pretty honest when we say we just want to win one game at a time,” Zimmerman said. “I couldn’t tell you what happened last week. I mean, it would be nice to win a few in a row. Nobody likes to lose. It sucks every night after we lose. But when we come here tomorrow, we’ll be ready to play and talking about the game today, not what happened yesterday.”

Consecutive loss No. 12 boasted some interesting developments, not the least of which was the fact Washington (44-83) was shut out for the 19th time this year, six more than any other club in the majors.

The Nationals’ lineup squandered countless opportunities to score. Phillies starter Brett Myers, who threw a nine-hit shutout, put four men on base in the first inning and put the leadoff man on three other times.

“The way the game started, I thought we were going to be able to do some damage,” manager Manny Acta said. “We were swinging the bat well early in the game. But after the first [three innings] of the game, he just threw a lot of strikes, pounded the strike zone.”

The victim of all that was starter Collin Balester.

“He’s learning,” Acta said. “He’s going to give us some good ones. He’s going to give us some shaky ones. And we’re going to have to live through it.”

Balester has blown away hitters early in games - they hit .178 against him the first time around the order. But the more they see the 22-year-old right-hander, the more they start to figure him out. Opponents hit .306 in their second at-bats against him and .341 after that.

The trend continued Wednesday, with Balester (2-6) allowing one run through his first four innings before running into real trouble. With a man on and no one out in the fifth, he left a fastball up in the strike zone, and Greg Dobbs crushed it to right for a two-run homer.

“If you’re consistently up in the zone, they’re going to keep seeing it up there, and they’re going to recognize it out of your hand,” Balester said. “And if the ball’s up, they’re going to crush it.”

By the time the fifth inning ended, the Phillies held a 4-0 lead.

Afterward, inside the clubhouse, Washington’s manager again tried to set the tone for his players, accepting the outcome with grace and perspective.

“I’ve had better days,” Acta said. “I’ve had better weeks. I’ve had better months. But I don’t regret anything. We’re here battling it out. I don’t remember losing as many games anywhere else, but hey, you can’t erase it. You’ve just got to try to snap out of it.”

Note - The Nationals will host the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox in interleague play next summer, according to a preliminary draft of the major league schedule that all 30 teams received.

They are slated to face every team from the American League East, same as they did in 2006, with the venues switched around this time. Washington will host the Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays and will go on the road to play the Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees.

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