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NATS CONTINUE STANDINGS CLIMB WITH 6-0 DRUBBING OF PHILS

[June 12th] -- The "boys" are having fun. Finally.

Usually, it's difficult to point to the reason that a team can amass one of the worst records in baseball for six weeks or so, then suddenly and from out of nowhere become the team with the best record over the next three or four weeks.

The Nationals, however are a different story, When the Nats were playing just a wee bit better than the Kansas City Royals, their pitching staff was one of the very worst in baseball. It seemed that every starting pitcher was giving up five, six, even seven runs every night. I didn't matter if Frank Robinson trotted out Livan Hernandez or Ryan Drese, bad things were going to happen. Now, Livan, Ramon Ortiz and Tony Armas Jr. are pitching their best baseball of the year, and two kids, Mike O'Connor and Shawn Hill, have stopped the bleeding in the back of the rotation with a slew of solid outings. Between the two of them, they have started twelve games for the Nationals, and neither of them has yet to give up more than three earned runs in a game. That will keep you in a lot of ballgames over the course of a long season.

On Sunday, Hill was brilliant, allowing only two hits and no runs, lowering his ERA to 1.80. In twenty innings, Hill as given up a total of nine hits. NINE HITS! Neither of the rookies are "kids;" both are 25, which gives them veteran-like mound presence along with their outstanding stuff. According to the baseball calendar, they "just made it." You're a prospect at 25, but washed up at 26. Good for them. Their solid starts have given Jim Bowden a lot of leeway in how he constructs the roster for the second half. Bowden could trade both Livan and Ramon Ortiz for prospects, and still have a solid rotation of John Patterson, Tony Armas Jr., O'Connor and Hill, and still have a Pedro Astacio to plug into that 5th slot.

Billy Bray also may present a problem for the Nats one day soon. He has closer stuff, but doesn't have enough pitches to be a starter. In fact, he's never started a game in college or the professional level. If Bray continues to impress, someone might get traded, unless the team can afford to be in a situation where they are so good that they can afford a "closer" be their setup man. We'll see.

It was nice to see Robert Fick and Daryle Ward hit homers in the 8th inning. I've always been a fan of Fick; he plays baseball "old school." He can catch, play first base and the two corner outfield positions. Playing a full season, he's hit around .280-12-70 a couple of times, so the Nationals need to keep him around. Ward too.

That's it for now, off to another Geology test. These four week summer classes are nice because they are over soon, but, man, it's like a test every three or four days! I'll write more later.


Comments:
Bill Bray looks able to handle long relief -- a *very* impressive 3 innings Friday evening. He's a southpaw, which, of course, can be useful in strategic match ups against left handed batters. Since Joey Eischen is out of the picture for this season (at least), and Mike Stanton isn't getting any younger, I think Bill Bray may solve several problems for the Nats bullpen for quite awhile.
 
I have a big fear that Robinson is about to start riding Bray like he did Majewski early in the year, and Rauch (who seems to be breaking down) over the past month. I hope it doesn't happen but all signs point to that.
 
There is not telling how good Ward might be with the bat if he ever got into decent physical shape. His fielding is an entirely different matter. Guys like Ward and LeCroy belong in the AL where they can DH.
 
I'm not sure it would be entirely a bad thing to have a "back-up closer" on the staff. Cordero's been doing great, but I'm not convinced that he's not going to lose it one day. He always seems to be riding close to the ragged edge, though most of the time he end up pulling it out.
 
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