Nats' offense sputters against Webb

Nats' offense sputters against Webb

WASHINGTON -- After Nationals right-hander John Patterson was hit hard against the Marlins last Monday, pitching coach Randy St. Claire warned that Patterson was going to have some tough moments early in the season. St. Claire said it was expected from a guy who had missed most of 2006 because of an arm injury.

"It's going to take him a while to get his arm strength back," St. Claire said. "Five games in Spring Training doesn't get your arm strength back. Usually coming out of Spring Training, hard throwers don't throw as hard in the beginning of the season as they do once May 15 to June comes along, and then the velocity starts to pick up. I just think he has to get back into pitching shape -- the whole body and everything."

Patterson made his second start of the season on Saturday night against the Diamondbacks and got off to a slow start, costing the Nationals as they lost, 7-1, in front of 16,617 fans at RFK Stadium. The loss extended Washington's losing streak to three games.

The game-time temperature was 41 degrees, but the wind-chill factor made it more like 29. Patterson acknowledged that it wasn't easy pitching in those conditions.

"It was really cold. I've pitched in some rain and tough conditions before, but [tonight] was one of the tougher ones," Patterson said. "I never truly broke a sweat. It's hard to hold on to the ball. It's a little slick. You can't get any moisture on your fingers. You do whatever you can do to just hold on to the ball. Tonight, it was tough."

The first inning was the pest for Patterson, who threw 31 pitches and gave up three runs in the opening frame. Chad Tracy doubled to left-center field with runners on first and second to score two runs.

After Scott Hairston singled to put runners on first and third, Tony Clark hit a sacrifice fly to make it 3-0.

"I didn't have good command, I didn't have good feel," Patterson said. "I got some balls up. I really couldn't find that release point to keep the ball in the strike zone."

Patterson's fastball was clocked in the high 80s. Asked if he was still building arm strength, Patterson said: "The good thing is that I'm maintaining whatever velocity I do have. It's not real good and then real bad. Of course, it's going to get better as the season goes on. You have to stay positive and keep working. It's the first month and it's pretty cold out there."

Patterson made it through the next four innings unscathed before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the fifth inning. But being down three runs seems like even more for the Nationals these days. They continue to have problems scoring runs, and Saturday was no different, as right-hander Brandon Webb was masterful for seven innings.

"Once again we couldn't get anything going offensively with guys on base," manager Manny Acta said. "We are dying to get a lead. We haven't had a lead since we left the Marlins on the field. We have to keep plugging away."

Washington's lone run came in the sixth inning, when Austin Kearns hit a controversial home run to left field. The replay appeared to show that the ball was just foul, landing on the left side of the foul pole.

"I'm going to have to get on Kearns," Webb said. "I know him pretty well, I played against him in high school all the time. It counts in the book, but it doesn't count between us."

Washington's best opportunity to score runs against Webb came in the third inning. The team had the bases loaded with one out when Dmitri Young came to the plate and hit a hard ground ball to second baseman Orlando Hudson, who was able to turn the double play.

"I thought I hit a good ball, but it was right at Orlando," Young said. "I was trying to get a good pitch to hit and drive it. I got good wood. I did everything right except [I] hit it to the second baseman. It [stinks], but there are going to be cases where that ball goes through. I can't sit there and worry about what has happened."

The Nationals went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position, and in their last three games, they are 0-for-24 in that same category.

"It's only six games into the season," Young said. "You go through spells where you score a lot of runs and where you score no runs. You can't sit there and get flustered because it can turn around in one game."

The Diamondbacks scored three more runs off reliever Jesus Colome in the top of the sixth inning. Eric Byrnes highlighted the scoring with an RBI double. Byrnes also hit a solo home run in the ninth off Nats closer Chad Cordero.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.