- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 14, 2008

SEATTLE | As their teammates struggle to score runs, it becomes more difficult for the Washington Nationals‘ pitching staff to avoid trying to compensate.

Much as they insist they don’t worry about how much run support they get or don’t get, Nationals pitchers often put pressure on themselves to take matters into their own hands.

This, of course, is the last thing Randy St. Claire wants to see out his charges.

“Everybody wants to turn it around and do well,” the Washington pitching coach said. “Everybody is kind of pressing a little bit, trying to do too much. And that’s when you start making mistakes. The last couple of weeks, I haven’t been real happy. I think we’ve been pressing a little bit.”

It’s understandable, given Washington’s anemic offensive production. Entering Friday night’s game against the Seattle Mariners, the Nationals owned a .236 team batting average (worst in the majors) and had scored an average of 3.65 runs (also worst in the majors).

At times, it hasn’t mattered how well Washington’s pitchers perform. When they give up three runs, their teammates seem to only score two. When they give up two, they get only one back in run support.

Through it all, Nationals pitchers have refused to make excuses. No Washington pitcher has complained about the lack of offense.

“It’s a long season, and these guys are busting their butts,” left-hander John Lannan said. “As long as you see that they’re working, you can’t really get upset. Cause they’re working just as hard as we are. Sometimes we’re not going to have our best days, and we don’t expect them to go 4-for-4 every day either.”

Lannan is one of the biggest victims of the lack of run support. Despite leading the starting staff with a 3.43 ERA, his owns a 4-7 record.

Teammate Jason Bergmann hasn’t fared much better. The right-hander recently tossed 20 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings - and came away with only one victory.

Lannan and Bergmann are the chief victims of poor run support. Of the 84 National League pitchers who have pitched at least 40 innings, they rank 83rd and 84th in run support. Washington scores an average of 2.49 runs when Lannan is pitching, 2.27 runs when Bergmann is on the mound.

“We all certainly want them to do well,” Bergmann said. “But there’s nothing I can do to control the runs, the run support or the outcome of the game, other than what I’m able to do on the mound.”

Still, Bergmann said he may have put undue pressure on himself recently to overcome the lack of offense. In each of his last two starts, he has walked the opposing pitcher with the bases loaded.

“I feel stupid the last two times out walking the pitcher. Maybe that’s because I’ve been pressing,” he said. “He’s the pitcher and he’s supposed to be the easiest out, and I haven’t been able to do it.”

St. Claire has seen signs of pressing from nearly every member of his staff, both starters and relievers. Sometimes it comes when a pitcher tries to be too fine with one of his offerings. Sometimes it comes when a pitcher rears back and tries to overthrow, messing with his mechanics.

But there’s only so much St. Claire can do to combat the epidemic.

“It’s mostly mental,” he said. “So we talk about it. You’ve got to try to get them to relax and not worry about things they can’t control. But that’s really all you can do about it.”

Notes - Paul Lo Duca isn’t quite ready to return from his broken right hand, but the veteran catcher should be ready to come off the 15-day disabled list Tuesday for the start of a series at Minnesota. Lo Duca, out since May 9, had played in only three rehab games through Thursday, going 3-for-9 with two walks for Class A Potomac and Class AAA Columbus. …

The Nationals were expected to place left-hander Odalis Perez on the 15-day DL with shoulder tendinitis following Friday night’s game and recall right-hander Tyler Clippard to start Saturday against the Mariners. Perez threw off a bullpen mound Friday and will pitch a simulated game Monday. Because he will be placed on the DL retroactive to May 4, he will be eligible to make his next scheduled start. …

Veteran infielder Aaron Boone was still battling a stiff neck Friday and was not in Washington’s starting lineup.

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