The first week of the season was uninspiring. In case you missed it, here’s how it played out:
Game 1 (4/2): John Patterson was shelled in his first outing and all over the internet (ESPN, cnnsi, etc etc) the thoughts are the same: If Patterson isn’t any good, then the Nats might as well not even play this year. Well, don’t jump to any conclusions just yet. Patterson’s mechanics were off, and he realized this thanks to a visit from Don Sutton. There was nothing good about Patterson’s outing, except for the fact that he thinks he can fix it. Additionally, one day does not a season make – Carlos Zambrano and Curt Schilling also got shelled on opening day, and only one of these 3 pitchers are fat and old. Meanwhile, Logan and Guzman got hurt and went to the DL. While this hurts their depth, and the last thing anyone wants to see is injuries, the sooner the Nationals figure out that Guzman should not be part of their future, the better.
Game 2 (4/3): The bats were quiet again for the second day, but the gloves were making all kinds of noise, none of it good. Shawn Hill was not hit terribly hard, but he let a few errors get the best of him. While it’s not his fault that Wilson messed up a double play or Young missed a grounder, experienced pitchers need to put it behind them and get outs. Hill was able to do that later in the game, he’ll be good when he can do that immediately. He’s a groundball pitcher, and he’s going to see errors when he pitches. Casto got his first major league hit, congrats. Zimmerman is hitting so far, even if the rest of the team isn’t, as is Dmitri Young (good thing, because he’s not there for his glove).
Game 3 (4/4): It started out just as bad as the other games. While Matt Chico had a strong first inning, he still got shelled early. But this time the bullpen held out, and that was necessary for the win. The bullpen gave this team a chance to win. In the 9th inning, down by 2 runs, Belliard led off with a double, Fick knocked him in with a single, Lopez bunted to move Fick over, Casto knocked him in, Zimmerman singled, Kearns walked, and Dmitri Young did exactly what he needed to do – hit the ball deep enough to score the man on third. The real question is – how would that game have turned out if Nook Logan or Christian Guzman got up to bat in the comeback 9th? Someone with an OBP of less than .300 in an inning like that means a loss not a win (although no problems if Logan came in to run for Fick after he hit his single). It also shows you how important it his to have versatile players like Fick who can hit moderately well, even if it’s not enough to start. Fick came in to field in the 8th when they did a double switch and got inserted in the on-deck spot. This kind of comeback doesn’t happen if the bullpen doesn’t hold the Marlins, and it rarely happens when guys who can’t get on base come to bat. Also notice who played today? This lineup, that scored enough runs to outlive a poor start by Chico, uses all the same players we suggested (other than Casto over Snelling, something we have no problem with).
Game 4 (4/5): Another poor outing by the starting pitcher saved by another strong outing by the bullpen. One thing is for sure, if this keeps up… it can’t keep up. The bullpen will tire out too quickly if they need to be used at this rate, somebody needs to step up and throw 6 or 7 innings once in a while. And that needs to be Patterson or Hill. Because there isn’t really anybody else who can. Other than that the game was a combination of not enough hits at the right time, and only one real threat to actually mount a comeback. The Nationals can’t keep spotting teams 4-0 or bigger leads. They’re going to have enough trouble winning without doing that.
Game 5 (4/6) : Jerome Williams, despite a not-so-impressive spring, pitched well early on Friday night. He wasn’t great, he wasn’t awful… errors and some near-errors did the Nats in. Hitters #2-5 went hitless, and Church, who should probably never bat behind Schneider, hit his second home run of the season.
Game 6 (4/7) : Patterson again didn’t last as long as he should. He got lit up in the first inning, then proceeded to look good after that, but he only lasted 5 in total. He wasn’t awful though, as he did pitch well after the first. Don’t panic yet, remember that Patterson is still recovering from shoulder surgery. He isn’t 100%, no matter how healthy he is, because this week was the first time he threw in real game situations. He should come around and look much more impressive down the road. Of course, the sooner it happens, the less likelihood of the bullpen having a mutiny. The team actually got some hits today, and the offense doesn’t look as anemic as the scoreboard might suggest. The lineup of Lopez, Casto, Zimmerman, Young, Kearns, Church, Belliard and Schneider (in that order) is probably the best one that can be thrown out there. It didn’t do fans any favors by not scoring, but Acta seems to know what he’s doing. Let’s just hope this lineup starts scoring soon so it is harder to put Guzman or Logan back in when they are ready.
Game 7 (4/8) – In a most surprising development… the Nats lost today. Hill is termed “hard luck loser” for this game as he had a very good outing, 2 runs in 6 2/3 innings. It’s impressive and in perspective of the whole week, it’s borderline miraculous. The middle of the order hit a little bit, but never around the same time, and the rest of the team didn’t.
Kearns was quoted saying “I laugh at people who press the panic button after the first week.” It is an appropriate quote for many reasons. Firstly, the Nats ARE hitting, just not with runners in scoring position (this is a combination of many factors, but they aren’t bringing AAA bats up there, it will work itself out). For everything that has gone bad, the heart of the lineup is hitting, as Lopez, Zimmerman, Kearns, Church, Belliard and Young are all around the .300 (or better) mark for the first week. Hill looks like a legit starter, Patterson looked better from one game to the next, and Jerome Williams may not be awful. All in all, it was a bad week allowing the Nats-haters to say I told you so. But if people around you are panicking at this point in the season, you should laugh at them, just like Austin Kearns.