- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 18, 2009

It didn’t take long for the Washington Nationals to put their stamp on Friday’s night game against the Chicago Cubs at Nationals Park.

The second batter of the game, Ryan Theriot, hit a ground ball that shortstop Alberto Gonzalez bobbled for an error - the Nationals’ 85th error of the season as they continue their assault on a pace of one error a game.

In true Nationals fashion, Gonzalez wasn’t even supposed to be in the game. Starting shortstop Cristian Guzman was originally on the lineup card drawn up by interim manager Jim Riggleman, but he begged out of the game.

“Cristian has got some issues going on with his feet,” Riggleman said before the game. “Bunions, I think, or something very tender.”

Here’s what is tender - Guzman, who normally hits leadoff or, since the arrival of Nyjer Morgan, second, was penciled in to bat sixth. Guzman is very tender about hitting sixth.

So Gonzalez was in the lineup to make the error. Then again, they even out. Gonzalez made a play on a ground ball in the second inning by Koyie Hill that Guzman surely would have botched, bunions or not.

The game dedicated to Dr. Scholl pretty much went like most of the other 62 losses the Nationals have had this season. They’re 0-2 now in the Riggleman era after a 3-1 loss.

Washington scored first after Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano walked in a run in the first inning, which saved the Nationals the embarrassment - as if one more embarrassment would do any damage - of having four of their first five batters reach base without scoring a run.

Then the pitcher, of course, drove in two runs for Chicago with a double to right field in the second inning for a 2-1 Cubs lead. Granted, Zambrano is a good-hitting pitcher. But he is still the pitcher. Lou Piniella doesn’t bat him fifth or sixth in the lineup. He came into Friday night’s game with a .225 batting average - very good for a pitcher, but still a .225 average.

He’s no Austin Kearns, the $8 million outfielder with the .195 average.

Since May 3, Zambrano is 6-for-25 with two home runs and five RBI. Kearns is 17-for-102, no home runs and four RBI.

Kearns was the subject of some conversation during Riggleman’s pregame meeting with reporters, when the question was asked about the outfielder’s role these days - since playing doesn’t seem to be one.

“His role is to just be available to help us the best he can when he is called on,” Riggleman said.

Then Riggleman went out of his way to compliment Kearns for not complaining about his lack of playing time.

“A lot of people with his stature in the game, not getting playing time, and a lot of people who have never come close to his stature and accomplish the things that he has done in the game would display an attitude or a body language that would be very hard to be around,” Riggleman said.

I am not quite sure what stature Riggleman is talking about here. The best season Kearns ever had was 2006. Between Cincinnati and Washington, he batted. 264 with 24 home runs and 86 RBI.

Maybe he means the $20 million Kearns has made in his career. That certainly carries some stature, especially back in his home state of Kentucky, where $20 million is more than the combined total of every politician who has ever sat in the governor’s seat in Lexington.

Gov. Kearns pinch hit in the seventh inning Friday - and struck out on three pitches.

Among those groups visiting the ballpark Friday was the Office of the Pardon Attorney, which, according to its Web site, “assists the President in the exercise of executive clemency.”

Hopefully someone dropped off some forms in the Nationals’ clubhouse.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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