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Chico's struggles continue in loss

Chico's struggles continue in loss

WASHINGTON -- Last Sunday in Arizona, Nationals manager Manny Acta said he didn't like the negative talk about left-hander Matt Chico, who gave up four runs and walked six batters in five innings against the Diamondbacks two days earlier. The game prompted general manager Jim Bowden to activate right-hander Shawn Hill earlier than expected.

Acta reminded the local media on Sunday that Chico had given Washington good outings more often than not and he was the only starting pitcher from the Opening Day roster to never miss a turn.

But after Friday's game against the Mets at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, Acta could no longer deny what has been going on since the All-Star break: Chico is having serious problems with his location and it hurt him in the Nationals' 6-2 loss to the Mets.

So bad was Chico's location against New York that the Nationals demoted him to the Triple-A Columbus after the game. Washington needed a roster spot for outfielder Wily Mo Pena, who was acquired from the Red Sox earlier in the day. Chico's demotion also means that left-hander Mike Bacsik will be back in the rotation after spending five games as a long reliever.

The plan is for Chico to get two starts in Columbus and then return to the team on Sept. 1, when the roster expands to 40 players. In his last three games, Chico has given up 11 runs and walked 14 batters in 14 1/3 innings.

"He has to go down there and throw strikes," Acta said. "We let him know that the last [14 1/3] innings is not an indication of what he has done over here. We just want him to go down, relax, throw strikes and he'll be here in a couple of weeks when the rosters expand."

Chico wasn't surprised by his demotion. He now has to fix his mechanics in the Minor Leagues.

"I wasn't all that shocked. I haven't been pitching that great. It might be better for me. I'll go down and get my head on straight and worry about location," Chico said. "The walks have killed me and it goes with falling behind the hitters."

Hill was one guy who felt bad about Chico's demotion. Earlier in the season, when he was healthy, Hill would give Chico sound advice about pitching. But for most of the second half, Hill was absent from Chico's life because Hill was rehabbing his sore right elbow.

"I just told him to keep his head up," Hill said. "He has done so much for us this year. Plus, it's his rookie year. He has gone through a lot."

There had been no previous indication of Chico walking a lot of hitters in the Minor Leagues. But Chico feels he needs to look at video of his days at Palomar Community College. Chico feels he will get back to being his old self once he looks at the video.

"It's a matter of looking back at things when I was good," he said. "I'm trying to figure out what was I doing before and transfer it over to here."

Chico lasted 4 1/3 innings and gave up four runs on five hits. He walked five batters and struck out two. In fact, Chico never retired the side in order.

Chico found himself behind by the second inning, when Damion Easley hit a solo home run. An inning later, David Wright's single brought home Jose Reyes. In the fourth, Moises Alou hit a home run and Mike DiFelice hit a sacrifice fly to make it a 4-1 game.

Facing the Nationals was Chico's hero, Mets left-hander Tom Glavine. He pitched seven solid innings and gave up one run on eight hits. The one run came in the third inning, when Dmitri Young doubled to center field to drive in Ryan Zimmerman.

Glavine is one of the best pitchers in recent memory and a lock to be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. But like Chico, Glavine had his share of lumps early in his big league career. In 1987, his first full Major League season, Glavine went 7-17 with a 4.56 ERA.

Last April, Glavine was the one person who told Chico that he had the makeup to figure things out in the big leagues.

"Just keep pitching. I've been there," Glavine said. "My first full year in the big leagues, I lost 17 games, so when you're on a team that was not going to win, it's about going out there every time it's your turn to pitch and trying to get better. That's just what he has to focus on."

The Nationals are hoping that two starts in Columbus will make Chico better.

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

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