- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mike O’Connor’s first pitch of last night’s game against the Florida Marlins — a throw-it-and-cringe fastball to Cody Ross — landed in the left field seats seconds later.

His last pitch of the night — a curveball high and outside to Jorge Cantu — was his sixth straight ball and his ticket to a middle-of-the-at-bat removal from manager Manny Acta.

How fitting that those two throws bookended O’Connor’s night, because in his first big league start in nearly 20 months, the Washington Nationals left-hander didn’t have it. And the team’s latest effort to find a fifth starter, set against a lineup that has punished Washington more than any other in the majors this year, turned into one of the Nationals’ ugliest losses of the year.

O’Connor gave up nine runs in 31/3 innings, walked six batters and threw a wild pitch in an 11-0 loss to Florida, which was the Nationals’ worst of the season and put them in danger of being swept at home by the National League East’s leaders for the second time in a month.

“He couldn’t throw any of his pitches for strikes,” manager Manny Acta said. “Not a very pretty outing.”



Lacking command from the beginning and forcing himself to pitch over the middle of the plate, O’Connor caused as much trouble for himself as the Marlins’ aggressive hitters did. He threw 40 balls among his 78 pitches and couldn’t work from behind without the Marlins punishing him for it.

It all came to a head in the fourth inning, when Wes Helms hit a 1-1 fastball to left for a leadoff homer and Matt Treanor followed with a double to center. Marlins pitcher Andrew Miller moved Treanor over with a sacrifice bunt, Ross walked, Jeremy Hermida singled and Hanley Ramirez drew his second walk of the game on four pitches, the last two in the dirt.

O’Connor threw two more balls to Cantu before Acta pulled him in the middle of the at-bat for Joel Hanrahan.

“The way I was throwing, I can’t say anything about him taking me out at that point,” O’Connor said. “It’s his decision to make.”

The reliever’s first pitch sailed wide of catcher Jesus Flores, allowing Ross to score on a wild pitch for the second time in as many innings. Then Hanrahan gave up a grand slam to Dan Uggla that effectively wiped out any chance of a Nationals comeback.

Miller, who hadn’t made it past the fifth inning in his two previous outings against the Nationals this year, turned in the best start of his short major league career. The 6-foot-6 lefty struggled with his control early, but showed flashes of brilliance.

He set up two other pitches with his mid-90s fastball, taking speed off when he wanted to and effectively jamming lefties and righties. The Nationals managed just two hits and a walk off of him in seven innings and Miller tied a career high with seven strikeouts.

“We didn’t see anything different,” center fielder Lastings Milledge said. “He’s the same guy he’s been all season. We didn’t score any runs.”

O’Connor likely will start Thursday against the Mets. He’ll attempt to avoid seeing his turn in the rotation end like Jason Bergmann’s (sent to Class AAA Columbus in April) or Matt Chico’s (pulled from the rotation for O’Connor last week).

And the Nationals will wait to see if they’ll have to continue the search for the last piece in what has been an otherwise steady rotation.

“As the pitching goes, we go,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “Look at the team in the other clubhouse. They’ve been playing well all year because their guys are throwing well. When we went through that good stretch [an 8-3 homestand], we had solid starting pitching. It seems kind of unfair to throw it on the starting pitching, but if you look at any good team in major league baseball, they have good starting pitching.”

SEEN AND HEARD AT NATIONALS PARK

Today is Mother’s Day but not to Washington Nationals manager Manny Acta.

The holiday is celebrated May 30 in his native Dominican Republic, and besides, Acta said he doesn’t believe in it.

“To me, every day is a Mother’s Day,” Acta said. “To me, that’s just a commercial day like all the other ones. I think my mom did way too much for me over the years for me just to remember her one day out of the year. The malls have no chance with me on those days.”

BY THE NUMBERS

599 Days between Mike O’Connor’s last two major league starts — a Sept. 28, 2006 against the Phillies and last night’s game against the Marlins.

TODAY’S GAME

Marlins LHP Scott Olsen Record, ERA: 4-1, 2.22

NATIONALS RHP SHAWN HILL RECORD, ERA: 0-0, 3.86

Time: 1:35 p.m. TV: MASN

— Ben Goessling

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