- The Washington Times - Monday, May 25, 2009

In a situation this dire, with a bullpen this rickety and an offense that’s suddenly having trouble scoring enough runs to win, all Washington Nationals manager Manny Acta can ask out of his quintet of young starters is to keep the Nationals in games.

They’ve done that all week, and that mostly has meant no-decisions - six in a row before Sunday’s game against the Orioles - in a stretch in which the Nationals went 1-5. But for a while, at least, the group of starters is holding up its end of the bargain.

The rotation, which includes four rookies and second-year starter John Lannan, posted three quality starts in the last seven games, holding opposing teams to a .194 batting average in the first six games of that span. In the outings that haven’t been quality starts, the Nationals have gotten their starter through the sixth inning three times.

“The bright spot about all these kids is they all seem to have the makeup that we’re looking for,” Acta said. “They don’t get very excited. They’re easy to coach. They carry themselves like they’ve been around before. It’s a good trait to have.”

All five pitchers (Lannan, Craig Stammen, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler and Shairon Martis) were brought up through the Nationals’ farm system, and they’ve succeeded by following the simple formula the Nationals preach to their young pitchers - fastball command and first-pitch strikes.

“You either listen to the coaches and become who you are, or you don’t listen and just wander off,” Acta said. “A lot of these guys, it has to do with their upbringing, too. They come from a good home, and they’ve been good kids throughout the minor leagues.”

Olsen on program

Left-hander Scott Olsen, who has been out since May 17 with left shoulder tendinitis, is heading to the Nationals’ extended spring training complex in Viera, Fla., where he’ll continue a throwing program to strengthen his throwing arm.

Acta still had no timetable for Olsen’s return but said the starter was playing catch from about 60 feet and reporting no problems with the light throwing.

“He’s got to go through that throwing program, build up and build up the innings,” Acta said.

Johnson a late scratch

First baseman Nick Johnson was scratched about 20 minutes before the first pitch Sunday with stomach pains. Manager Manny Acta said he had had the symptoms on Saturday night as well. Johnson hit in the batting cage before the game, but wasn’t able to go. He was taken to the hospital and examined by team doctors, but acting general manager Mike Rizzo said Johnson should be able to play Monday in New York.

With Johnson out of the lineup, Adam Dunn moved to first base and Austin Kearns took his place in right field.

Extra bases

Right-hander Mike MacDougal, who signed a minor league deal May 3, has a 21-day out clause in the contract that allows him to opt for free agency Monday if the Nationals don’t call him up from Class AAA Syracuse. Rizzo said the Nationals haven’t made any decisions on whether to bring MacDougal to the big leagues. …

Right-hander Logan Kensing is also back in the Nationals’ minor league system after being designated for free agency on May 15. He had been throwing in Florida to build up his arm and decided to accept his assignment and report to Syracuse instead of declaring free agency.

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