No Help at Home

By Carla Peay
Updated: August 29, 2005

WASHINGTON, D.C.—With five weeks remaining in baseball’s regular season, the Washington Nationals returned to the friendly confines of RFK after their longest road trip of the season. Posting a respectable 7-6 mark after trips to Houston, Colorado, Philadelphia and New York, the Nationals hoped that this 6-game homestand against Cincinnati and St. Louis would allow them to pile up a few badly needed wins. It was not to be the case as the Nationals dropped both series.

Missing an opportunity to take a series from the below .500 Reds was a tough blow for a team still in the playoff chase, as the Nationals managed to win only the second game of the three game set against Cincinnati. Then the Nationals welcomed in the league’s best team in the St. Louis Cardinals. They gained some much needed momentum with a stellar outing by Esteban Loaiza and took the series opener 4-1. But the Nationals were unable to score beyond that game, and lost the final two games of the series by identical scores of 6-0.

“We didn’t hit again. We didn’t score runs. If you don’t score any runs you’re not going to win ballgames”, said National’s manager Frank Robinson, in what must seems like a tired refrain even to him. At or near the bottom of the league in nearly every offensive category, the one area the Nationals have been able to count on is their pitching. But the long season is beginning to wear down the usually dependable and often overworked staff, and the Nationals are basically down to three dependable arms. Sometimes two.

John Patterson has been the most consistent performer of late, pitching extremely well in his most recent outings. Patterson, 8-4, has the third best ERA in the league at 2.43 behind Roger Clemens and Chris Carpenter. Esteban Loaiza, 9-9, turned in one of his best outings of the season in the Nationals opening night victory over St. Louis on Friday.

But ace starter Livan Hernandez has been hampered by a bad knee all season, and the normally durable pitcher is beginning to show signs of wearing down. Hernandez’s pitch count and number of innings pitched ranks at or near the top of the league, but the knee problems are beginning to affect his mechanics. Adding to the National’s pitching woes are Tony Armas’ and Ryan Drese’s shoulder problems. Drese is currently on the 15 day disabled list, necessitating the minor league call up of pitcher Matt White, who was the starter in Saturday’s loss.

Also pressed into action as a starter is the recently acquired John Halama, who started Sunday’s outing. Halama spent the earlier part of the season with the Boston Red Sox, and joined the Nationals on August 5th. Despite taking the loss in Sunday’s effort, Robinson was pleased with Halama’s performance.

“It was an outstanding performance by him (Halama). You can’t ask for anything more than that. You would think it would inspire some other people, but it didn’t work. You can’t, you shouldn’t play like this at home. It’s just not acceptable, and it makes it that much more difficult to go on the road”, added Robinson.

“I kept the game close”, said Halama, who allowed only two runs on three hits before leaving the game in the middle of the fifth inning.

“I did the best that I could. I don’t personally sit there and think about the offense. But we have to put some points on the board. We have to take some pressure off the pitchers”, he added. After two shutouts in two days, and heading into a four game series with the division leading Braves, the National’s newest pitcher couldn’t be more correct.