Speigner's early troubles doom Nats

Speigner's early troubles doom Nats

WASHINGTON -- While most of the Nationals' rotation is out with injuries, Levale Speigner is going through a different kind of suffering -- a persistent case of bad luck.

On Saturday, it flared up in the form of defensive mistakes, a trio of which helped San Diego take an early lead in an 11-3 win over Washington.

Twice in the first inning the Nationals lost track of catchable fly balls in the air, and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman missed his target on a force-out throw to second base. Six runs later, the inning ended. When Speigner left after the fourth, his ERA had risen in his four starts to 14.44.

"If you look at his numbers, you'd think he pitched horrible," Zimmerman said. "He's pitched well. He's just had bad luck. He could have been out of that inning after the fourth batter."

After the game, manager Manny Acta said he was encouraged by the progress Speigner is making, and that he wouldn't count Saturday's performance against him when deciding who will start next Friday against Minnesota -- the team that drafted him.

Speigner refused to blame the defense for his outing, citing the fact that he gave up several hits after the defensive errors, including one to San Diego pitcher Justin Germano. He rebounded after the first and didn't give up a run the rest of the night.

"I guess that's where being a reliever helped me," Speigner said. "You have to have a short memory as a reliever. You get rid of it right then and try to put up zeros."

The usually reliable Nationals outfield made a pair of the first-inning gaffes. Center fielder Nook Logan misjudged a high fly ball from Terrmel Sledge that ended up falling in front of him.

"It was a big swing -- hit off the end of the bat," Logan said. "I don't have problems with the overhang [at RFK]. I came from Detroit, where it was tough to see the ball off the bat."

On the next play, shortstop Cristian Guzman and left fielder Ryan Church both called for a popup in shallow left field, then backed off to allow the other person to make the play.

"I'd rather see two guys collide trying to catch a ball instead of two guys looking at each other," Acta said, refusing to offer excuses for any of the mistakes.

Speigner's pitching gave the team the opportunity for a comeback, and, in the sixth inning, the Nationals cut the lead in half when Dmitri Young blasted a home run into the outfield suites high above the fence.

The Padres answered back in the seventh, as reliever Winston Abreu gave up a bases-loaded triple to San Diego catcher Rob Bowen. San Diego also had strong pitching, including a six-inning outing by Germano.

"He had a real slow breaking ball," Acta said, comparing Speigner and Germano. "That's a lesson for these guys -- two guys at 68 mph getting people out."

Acta now has a decision to make on Speigner's future. He was a Rule 5 Draft pick, meaning he must stay with the Major League team for the entire year or be returned to the Twins. He had a string of relief outings that offered encouragement, but was rushed into starting duty after injuries to the Nationals' rotation.

After the game, Acta emphasized that no decision had been made, but said he was impressed by Speigner's character after the rough start.

"He held his own after that," the manager said. "He showed us a lot. He could have just crumbled and had a disaster of an inning."

Speigner didn't speculate on his future, other than to say that he'd be back at the ballpark Sunday for his usual routine.

It's been a rough ride for Nationals pitchers this season, and though he's stayed healthy, Speigner has still fallen victim to bad luck.

Michael Phillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.