- The Washington Times - Monday, April 13, 2009

ATLANTA | There are myriad ways to get to 0-6. Terrible pitching. Punchless offense. Shoddy defense.

For the Washington Nationals, though, the path to 0-6 hasn't so much resembled an implosion as it has a week's worth of Chinese water torture.

A two-out single here. A passed ball there. A double-play grounder with runners in scoring position to cap it all off.

In other words, the little things are killing the Nationals. And after their latest display - an 8-5 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Sunday - Manny Acta decided it was time to stop the trend before things really get out of control.

In a brief-but-firm team meeting following the loss at Turner Field, Acta told his players to start paying attention to details. Make that key play in the field to kill a rally. Execute at the plate when called upon. Don't rely on talent alone. Be professional.

And if not? Well, there are plenty of veterans on the bench screaming for more playing time.

“Guys know what they need to do, and I think it's being addressed,” slugger Adam Dunn said. “The good thing is, if things aren't going right or people aren't doing their jobs, we feel like we've got a good enough team. If they're not doing their job, then you're sitting down.”

After preaching patience as his club lost three straight at the Marlins and then two more to start the weekend in Atlanta, Acta perhaps recognized Sunday the clock is ticking. The Nationals are the only winless team left in the majors, and the thought of that streak continuing is motivation enough for these players to get their act together now.

“We can all go and say we've only played six games,” said utilityman Willie Harris, who left Sunday's game with a strained oblique muscle. “But after a while, we'll be at 15 games. What do we say then? Oh, we've only played 15 games? I mean, somewhere we've got to turn it around ourselves.”

The first two games of this series were winnable, and the same held true Sunday, with the score tied in the fifth and Washington down only a run in the seventh before the Braves tacked on three runs against relievers Steven Shell and Wil Ledezma to create some cushion.

The Nationals, though, believe they should have seized control of this one much earlier. They stranded six men in the game's first five innings and left the bases loaded in the fifth when Josh Willingham looked at a called third strike.

In six games this season, Washington has left 55 runners on base.

“That's ridiculous,” Dunn said. “You can't do that and be successful.”

Certainly not when the rotation has yet to produce a quality start. Scott Olsen made it 0-for-6 Sunday after allowing five runs in five innings despite retiring 10 of the first 12 batters he faced.

Olsen (0-2) was victimized by a couple of killer walks: a two-out free pass to Brian McCann in the fourth that was followed by three straight RBI hits and a one-out walk to Omar Infante an inning later that led to two more runs. A passed ball from backup catcher Josh Bard, a stolen base by McCann and some missed plays in the field didn't help matters.

“Those are the little things that when things are not going good for you, you end up paying for it,” Acta said.

Those little things plagued the Nationals on a daily basis all week. For every positive development - a Ryan Zimmerman homer, a string of Dunn walks, a solid first time around the order by one of the starters - two negatives follow.

“We're having glimpses of a couple innings at a time,” Bard said. “But that's not enough. If you want to be a big league player, you've got to play nine innings.”

So the Nationals boarded their charter flight Sunday night, a miserable six-game stretch fresh on their minds but a chance Monday in their home opener to right their season.

“We just need to forget this ever happened,” Olsen said. “That's pretty much the only way you can look at it: Just forget all about it.”

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