- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 7, 2008

At his best, Jason Bergmann is a dominant major league pitcher who blows away hitters and oozes confidence in his ability to do so.

At his worst, well, it’s not a pretty sight.

Unfortunately for the Washington Nationals, there has been no middle ground for Bergmann this season. The right-hander either has been fantastic or awful, and the latter version was on display Friday night at Nationals Park.

Manhandled by the light-hitting San Francisco Giants for eight runs (including seven in a nightmarish third inning), Bergmann wound up on the wrong end of a 10-1 loss that was among Washington’s least attractive games of the season.

“He hasn’t had that median-type of outing,” manager Manny Acta said. “He’s either been fantastic or struggled like tonight.”

Bergmann picked the wrong night to have an off night. With the Nationals’ pitching staff still exhausted from Thursday’s day-night doubleheader against the St. Louis Cardinals, Acta sought a quality performance from Bergmann.

“I didn’t pick up the team,” Bergmann said. “Everybody fought their tails off yesterday [in the] doubleheader, and I had to come out and give a good effort, and I didn’t have it. … That’s not the game I wanted to have, and I don’t think it’s the game this team needed.”

Bergmann’s season can be divided into three parts. He was roughed up in his first three outings, posting an 11.68 ERA that earned him a demotion to Class AAA Columbus. But upon returning from minor league banishment three weeks ago, the 26-year-old rediscovered his lost form and churned out 19 2/3 innings, giving club officials reason to believe he had turned an important corner in his career.

So what to make of Friday night’s debacle? Was this a one-time implosion or an ominous sign of worse things to come?

“Every pitcher’s got a bad day,” he said. “I’m hoping today was it.”

Bergmann’s evening got off to a decent enough start; he made it through the first inning allowing only one single. But he starting faltering in the second, allowing a run on three hits, then completely disintegrated during a seven-run third.

There were two key sequences during the fateful inning, neither of which was handled well by Bergmann (1-3). It began when his 3-2 fastball to opposing pitcher Tim Lincecum was called a ball by plate umpire Greg Gibson, walking in a run.

Sensing his starter was frazzled by the borderline call, Acta made a rare mound visit without pulling his pitcher. Instead, the manager offered some choice words for Bergmann, visibly agitated at Bergmann as he pointed out the Giants had scored only three runs to that point.

“I just went up there to let him know that and let him know that he had the choice to fight and keep us in the ballgame or just put his head down,” the manager said.

Bergmann, though, couldn’t compose himself, because his next pitch was lined by Fred Lewis into right field for a two-run single.

Still, Bergmann appeared on his way to getting out of the jam without further damage when Jose Castillo hit a foul pop along the first-base warning track. Aaron Boone couldn’t make the catch, though and was charged with an error.

Again, Bergmann didn’t handle the situation well. His next pitch to Castillo (a slider, even though Acta had called for a curveball from the dugout) was hit into the right-center field bleachers for a three-run homer that made it 8-0 and drew resounding boos from the crowd of 25,987.

“It seemed like the gameplan we came up with before the game was exactly their hitting plan against me,” Bergmann said.

The Nationals were never in it after that, done in both by their starter’s ineffective outing and another woeful performance from their lineup against a premier pitcher.

Lincecum (8-1), like Cole Hamels and Brandon Webb and Dan Haren before him, easily handled Washington’s lineup. The 23-year-old budding ace of the Giants’ staff retired the first 11 batters he faced, needed only 50 pitches to get through his first five innings and gave up just one run on five hits and no walks in seven innings.

“He had three pitches he was throwing for strikes tonight, and he’s at 97 [mph],” third baseman Kory Casto said. “Tough night.”

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