- The Washington Times - Friday, August 21, 2009

Without question, the week of Aug. 16-22 will be regarded as a highlight of the 2009 season for the Washington Nationals. It’s hard to top the signing and public introduction of Stephen Strasburg as the future ace of the pitching staff and the naming of Mike Rizzo as general manager.

But there have been ballgames played this week as well, and the results have not jibed with the positive news off the field.

A 4-1 loss Thursday night capped a three-game sweep at the hands of the Colorado Rockies. All three were well-played, nip-and-tuck games. But all three ended in losses for a Washington club that has been trying to boost its image around the sport not only through front-office decisions but also through better performance on the field.

The Nationals haven’t been able to live up to the latter end of that bargain this week. Despite returning home on a three-game winning streak, they’ve reverted back to a lesser form.

Perhaps surprisingly, they’ve lost the offensive oomph that had defined their second-half success. A lineup that had been averaging six runs since the All-Star break was held to eight in three games against Colorado.

“They’ve got good pitching over there,” center fielder Nyjer Morgan said. “I’m not trying to [make] excuses, but a lot of their guys kept us off-balance. They’ve got a heck of a team over there.”

Thursday’s finale featured a scant four hits by the home team, hardly enough offense to give the crowd of 18,036 that gathered on a sweltering night reason to peel themselves off their plastic seats. The primary victim of that was right-hander Garrett Mock, who at times dominated but faded as his evening advanced.

As much as the Nationals rave about Mock’s potential, there always has been concern about his penchant for fading by the middle innings. He has yet to last more than six innings in his eight career starts. And even though he cruised early Thursday night - he retired the first 10 Rockies batters he faced and recorded eight strikeouts in five innings - he regressed as the evening wore on.

“Garrett’s a big guy. It’s hot and humid. And he throws a fair number of pitches to get to that point in the game,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “So that’s where he’s kind of been finishing up lately.”

In the fifth, Mock had two men on base with two outs, though he briefly appeared to get out of the jam by getting Carlos Gonzalez to foul-tip a 1-2 pitch into catcher Josh Bard’s glove. Or so everyone thought.

As plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt signaled strike three, Washington’s fielders began to jog toward the dugout. But second base umpire Doug Eddings overruled the call, insisting Gonzalez’s tip hit the dirt before reaching Bard’s glove.

“I don’t know how Dougie saw that play,” Morgan said. “I guess he was eating his carrots tonight.”

Riggleman came out to argue, but it was to no avail. Everyone retook their places on the diamond. And sure enough, Gonzalez blooped Mock’s next pitch into left field for an RBI double. A run-scoring wild pitch followed, and that raised the question whether the reversed strikeout call rattled the young pitcher.

“No, I didn’t get rattled at all,” Mock insisted. “If that would never have happened, if it wouldn’t have been a questionable call, I had in mind what I wanted to do. I executed what I wanted to execute. … He just battled and hit a pitch that I thought was in a good spot.”

Had the Nationals been able to mount an offensive charge against right-hander Jason Hammel, Mock might have found himself in a better position. Instead, he wound up on the short end.

The Nationals threatened only twice. They loaded the bases with two outs in the fourth but squandered the chance when Elijah Dukes grounded into a forceout. They broke through in the sixth when Adam Dunn roped a 2-0 pitch from Hammel to right field for a double, scoring Cristian Guzman and cutting the deficit to 2-1.

But that’s as close as Washington got. The Rockies tacked on a pair of late runs to give themselves a little cushion, and the Nationals’ stuck-in-the-mud lineup went down quietly into the stifling night.

“That’s probably as good a three days [of pitching] as we’ve seen,” Riggleman said. “I think it’s going to be a great growing experience for our ballclub to see that and realize that’s what it takes.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide