The qualities that have made the Nationals one of the hottest teams in baseball failed them on Sunday afternoon, as the Washington Nine dropped the last in their three game series against the Orioles, 7-4 at Nationals Park. Returning starting pitcher Tom Gorzelanny was shaky in pitching just 4.2 innings (he gave up ten hits and four runs), the Washington bullpen was just so-so (Collin Ballester appeared, but didn’t impress), and — perhaps most worrisome — the Nationals committed three errors.
The disturbing reversion to form, however, seems more like a hiccup that a talisman of future performance: Ryan Zimmerman is back in the line-up, Michael Morse has claimed first base as his own, and it’s likely the strong-up-the-middle Nationals will remain so. “It’s a long season, and you’re going to have a couple games where you play terrible defensively,” third sacker Ryan Zimmerman said after the loss. “The thing is you just have to learn and realize that’s why you lost the game. When we won all those games in a row, it was because we were playing good defense and doing the little things right.”
The Wisdom of Section 1-2-9: It’s been three weeks since reports surfaced that the Nationals were inquiring about Houston outfielder Michael Bourn, but Nats fans are still talking about it. The consensus, at least in 1-2-9, is that the the inquiry is evidence that the team doesn’t realize what it has in Roger Bernadina. “Rizzo and crew have the solution to their lead-off and centerfield problem right in front of his eyes,” a 1-2-9 regular said on Friday. “They’ve got to give this guy a clear shot. He’s getting better every day.” There wasn’t much disagreement, even as 1-2-9’ers agreed on Bourn’s talents.
Indeed, there’s little question that Bourn is a heck of a player — .279/.349/.385 with a league-leading 29 stolen bases, but he wasn’t always this way. At age 25 he was what Bernadina is now: a talented youngster with plenty of potential. It had taken him two years to get to that point, and one more year before he became a regular in Houston. Bernadina is on the same trajectory, and has recently shown that he knows how to use his speed: he’s raised his batting average to .281 (for the record, that’s two points higher than Bourn), and his stolen base numbers are good.
“I don’t get it,” a 1-2-9 regular commented. “You know, I’d hate to think that [Mike] Rizzo is one of these guys who are always looking elsewhere for talent. He’s built a good farm system, now it’s time to use it.” Another fan chimed in, with a similar thought: “We’re always told we have to be patient, but they have to be patient too. This kid [Bernadina] is a heck of a player. Just put him at lead-off and keep him there. It takes some getting used to.”
In truth, Bernadina is emerging as a popular Nats’ player. There’s an entire blog dedicated to him, and he has support in the stands. And with the injury to semi-regular Rick Ankiel, Bernadina has latched onto his job in center. He’s raised his BA thirty points in the last ten games and on Sunday he was the only Nats’ regular worth watching: he was 3-4 with a home run and RBI.
What is interesting about the let’s-trade-for-Bourn rumors is their persistence. A trade for Bourn first surfaced in 2009, when Houston fans got wind of the Nationals’ needs. The reaction among the Astros faithful was predictable: “He is one guy that the Astros don’t need to trade,” a Houston rooter wrote then. “They need to trade the older players. They need to keep Bourn and Pence.” That sentiment hasn’t changed along Crawford Street. Then too, the Nationals would have to give a gaggle of prospects in return, including one or two pitchers — the premium players that Rizzo so prizes. “We should just end the conversation,” a 1-2-9 fan said on Friday. “Play Bernadina. Keep Bourn in Houston.”