- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 6, 2008

ATLANTA | Jason Bergmann, by his own admission, is the “tweener” of the Washington Nationals‘ starting rotation.

Too old to be considered a prospect, too young to be considered a veteran, Bergmann finds himself in an uncomfortable middle ground that at times leaves him wondering where he figures into the organization’s long-term plans.

The 26-year-old knows this much: If he keeps pitching the way he did Friday night during a 10-5 thumping at the hands of the Atlanta Braves, he won’t remain a member of this rotation for long.

Bergmann stumbled through his 21/3 innings. The Braves roughed him up for seven runs, and the right-hander issued three walks over a span of four batters in the third inning.

“He just flat out didn’t give us a chance,” manager Manny Acta said.

The third and final free pass, which came with the bases loaded, brought Acta from the dugout with a quick hook. Bergmann retreated to the dugout, where he repeatedly slammed his glove on the bench in a fit of frustration.

“I’m extremely pissed off,” he said. “I don’t want to have my whole year ruined by a couple of bad starts here at the end.”

Over his last five starts, Bergmann (2-11) has gone 0-3 with a 10.07 ERA. He has allowed 31 hits and walked 16 batters over 22 1/3 innings and seen his ERA skyrocket from 4.13 to 5.16.

All that leaves him in potentially precarious standing within the organization. The Nationals have made it clear they consider 23-year-old John Lannan and 22-year-old Collin Balester as future stalwarts of their rotation. Veteran left-hander Odalis Perez - a pending free agent- doesn’t figure to return in 2009, but 30-year-old Tim Redding has proven reliable and remains under team control for two more seasons.

So how does Bergmann figure into the grand picture? He has flashed occasional glimpses of domination, but those periods have consistently been sandwiched by dismal stretches and compounded by Bergmann trying too hard to get himself out of trouble.

“I mean, you can see it in his face out there,” pitching coach Randy St. Claire said. “He’s getting mad and you can see the frustration in his face. I just think he’s putting a lot of pressure on himself, trying to do more than he’s capable of.”

Bergmann’s up-and-down trends have baffled team officials.

“Consistency is very important to succeed at the big-league level,” general manager Jim Bowden said. “He needs to be more consistent on the mound. Certainly at times he’s pitched like a guy that can win 12 to 15 [games]. And at other times, he hasn’t.”

Bergmann’s latest struggle turned Friday night’s game early into the proceedings. Atlanta enjoyed an 8-1 lead after three innings and extended the advantage to 10-1 after five. Though the Nationals drew within the verge of striking distance, the outcome was never in doubt. Both managers began substituting players like this was a spring training game.

By the time Jorge Julio got Roger Bernadina to ground out to second to end the game, the Nationals saw their feel-good vibe from an 8-1 homestand drift off into the thick Georgia air.

Two straight losses to the fourth-place Braves have quashed any realistic talk of catching Atlanta over the season’s final three weeks and escaping the National League East basement.

The Nationals instead will spend the remainder of this month evaluating the players on their roster and trying to come to some consensus heading into 2009.

Bergmann is among those facing evaluation, and there were indications Friday night that the club might consider removing him from the rotation before his next turn arrives.

“We think here. We don’t react to situations,” Acta said. “We’re just going to go to sleep, and whenever we make a decision, if we do, believe me you guys will find out.”

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