Speigner learns rough lesson

Speigner learns rough lesson

TORONTO -- Nationals right-hander Levale Speigner is quickly learning about the ups and downs that come with being a Major League starting pitcher.

Exactly one month into his starting role, Speigner was roughed up for seven runs as the Nationals dropped their second in a row to the Blue Jays, 7-3, on Saturday afternoon at Rogers Centre.

"He made way too many mistakes over the plate," said Nationals manager Manny Acta. "But he's a Double-A kid that we got as a Rule 5 [Draft pick], so he's going to have to take his lumps."

Speigner (2-3) struggled with his control all afternoon, especially on his offspeed pitches.

"He got hurt all day with that slider," Acta said. "Those are the type of things that you have to learn here, with experience, that when something is not working you go to the next one and go from there."

Speigner's worst inning came in the third, when he surrendered a two-run homer to Jays center fielder Vernon Wells, and a two-run single to designated hitter Frank Thomas.

One inning later, Speigner ran into more trouble. He loaded the bases and walked Wells to bring home the game's sixth run. That signaled the end for Speigner, who yielded 10 hits while walking two over 3 1/3 innings. It's the fifth time in six starts this season that Speigner has failed to make it past the fourth inning.

The outing was even more disappointing considering he had a breakthrough performance in his last start against the Twins, the same team who left Speigner unprotected this offseason, allowing the Nationals to select him during the 2006 Rule 5 Draft.

In that outing, Speigner out dueled Minnesota ace Johan Santana en route to picking up his first Major League win as a starter. Speigner allowed just one run in the game and didn't face more than four batters in any of his six innings of work.

"It's frustrating going out and having a good one and then following it up with what happened today," Speigner said. "That's part of it. That's part of my learning process."

Speigner started the season with a 3.77 ERA in 12 appearances out of the bullpen. He was forced into the starting rotation on May 16 because of an injury to Shawn Hill, and since that time, has gone 1-3 with an 11.79 ERA. It's not an ideal situation for the young righty, who is projected to be a reliever long-term, but Speigner says his role has nothing to do with his recent struggles on the mound.

"To be successful I have to get things figured out no matter what," Speigner said. "The bullpen isn't going to help me get a better slider. It's pitches. It's making things work -- not worrying about where I'm at, whether it's in a starting role, or in the 'pen."

The Nationals (29-39) have an off-day on Thursday, which means they could opt to skip Speigner's next start. Acta says that isn't part of the game plan right now, though.

"We haven't even considered that yet," Acta said. "He's coming from a great outing -- so we're not going to be changing our mind every time he goes out there depending on what he does."

Washington couldn't generate much offense against Jays starter Shaun Marcum. Toronto's 25-year-old righty allowed just two runs on three hits while striking out a career high 11-batters over seven innings of work.

Nationals designated hitter Dmitri Young and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman each had a solo home run, but that was as much damage as Washington could do to Marcum (4-2).

"He was throwing a lot of offspeed stuff," Zimmerman said. "His changeup was really good today and he was throwing it to lefties and righties. It's tough when he can get ahead and go to his offspeed stuff like that."

As the Nationals continue their 15-game Interleague schedule they're seeing a lot of new pitchers for the first time. That was the case with Marcum who has only been in the Major Leagues for parts of two seasons. Going into Saturday's game none of the Nationals had ever faced the right-hander, but Zimmerman says that wasn't a factor behind their quiet afternoon at the plate.

"We have video and stuff that we can watch, so we knew what to expect," Zimmerman said. "The first time through, you kind of get to see what he has and what his motion looks like."

Acta thinks his offense just wasn't able to make the necessarily adjustments against Marcum as the game progressed.

"He did a tremendous job," Acta said."He's got good offspeed pitches and he's got good command of them. We couldn't adjust to them."

The Nationals will close out their nine-game road trip on Sunday afternoon. They've currently gone an impressive 5-3, but have lost the last two games to the Jays. Dating back to 2005, Washington has lost six straight to Toronto (33-34).

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