GM, skipper review team at halfway mark

GM, skipper review team at halfway mark

WASHINGTON -- Asked to enunciate his feelings on the injury-wracked first half of the Nationals' 2008 season, general manager Jim Bowden played it straight.

"Nightmare," Bowden said simply. "Major League nightmare. [At the] Minor League level, [it's been] a dream."

Bowden said he's pleased with the development of young talent at several levels of the organization. He said it's a positive that can be taken from all the injuries the Nationals have suffered, along with the opportunities given to young players due to the numerous subsequent callups.

"At the Major League level, we're really excited about where we stand today with the development in the last month of Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes, Jesus Flores and John Lannan," Bowden said. "Four 23-year-olds, to add to Zimm [Ryan Zimmerman] who's 23, we've got five of them now to build around. We're building a core, we're making progress, and we've got more kids coming.

"As far as the results on the field, it's been a nightmare, let's say it the way it is. The injuries killed us."

It's been a tough season offensively for Washington, which got off to a 4-0 start, but has fallen back to last in the league in batting average and runs. Both Bowden and manager Manny Acta, however, have firmly believed all year the Nationals would be a different team had starters like Zimmerman, Austin Kearns and Nick Johnson not spent so much time out of the lineup with injuries.

When asked how to describe the first half of his team's 2008 season, Acta reached for a word to sum up a season that's seen 14 players spend time on the disabled list, accounting for 490 total missed games.

"DL-ish," Acta said. "Hurtful, seeing basically the heart and soul of our lineup go on the DL. Just hurtful, that's the only thing I can say. It's killing those guys, because those guys love to play. They love to be out there. I know how those guys feel."

Acta had plenty of praise for youngsters like Milledge, Lannan, Dukes, Joel Hanrahan and Jesus Flores. He said the Nationals are "pleased" with the progress made by several young players on the roster who are considered to be part of the future in Washington.

Still, with so many players missing time due to injury -- including five Opening Night starters, the Nationals' closer and two All-Stars, Acta said he couldn't give an accurate assessment of his team at the midpoint of their season.

"How can I evaluate my team without four main guys in there?" Acta asked before Friday's game against Baltimore.

Still, Bowden insisted that the Nationals have plenty to look forward to despite struggling this season. He pointed to the success of Washington's Minor League system this year as cause for plenty of optimism in the future.

"[The] farm-system prospects have played so well," Bowden said. "We have the fourth-best record of all farm systems in baseball as an organization, and we're winning with prospects, and they're developing and they're moving. Some of these guys have gone above and beyond what our expectations were."

At this point in the Minor League season, both Triple-A Columbus and Double-A Harrisburg are first in their respective divisions, and Class A Potomac won the first-half Northern Division title in the Carolina League.

Acta pointed out after Friday's 4-2 win over Baltimore that Washington is willing to give its young players a chance, which he said has helped facilitate development.

"Anybody can contribute on any given night," Acta said. "If you look out there at the constant guys, every day out there are the young guys that we really think are going to be part of our future."

The future may be bright, but Acta felt the need Friday night to single out another group of key importance to the Nationals' success now: their fans. He said the fans know the club is building for the future, which is why seeing the new stadium well occupied when the team is home heartens him.

"I've got to give it to our fans," Acta said. "They knew what they were getting into, the plan that we're into. We're still averaging 30,000 people a night. There are some teams in the Major Leagues who are in first, second place, drawing 20,000, 15,000. Tonight, it was great."

Pitching matchup
WSH: LHP John Lannan (4-8, 3.34 ERA)
Lannan upped his quality start total to 11, best among rookies, in a performance that is becoming typical for the young left-hander. Over six innings on Sunday, he allowed just two hits and four runs while striking out six and walking none. He got a no-decision for his trouble, but he dropped his ERA to 3.34, 13th best in the Majors and second best among rookies.

BAL: LHP Garrett Olson (5-3, 5.01 ERA)
Olson had another middling start in his last outing, a performance where he showed the best and the worst of his abilities. The southpaw recorded three perfect innings against Milwaukee on Sunday, but he also gave up two long home runs. Olson has completed five innings in all but two of his starts and has allowed three earned runs or less seven times in 11 outings.

Tidbits
Adrian Nieto, the Nationals' fifth-round pick, was at Nationals Park on Friday being shown around by several team officials. Nieto, who took batting practice with the team, has been troubled by right elbow problems in the past. However, Bowden isn't worried, calling Nieto's elbow "fine." ... Coming into action on Friday, the Nationals had allowed two earned runs or less in eight of their past 11 starts, notching eight quality starts along the way.

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Up next
• Sunday: Nationals (Jason Bergmann, 1-5, 4.60) vs. Orioles (Jeremy Guthrie, 4-7, 3.64), 1:35 p.m. ET
• Monday: Nationals (TBD) at Marlins (Ryan Tucker, 2-2, 6.75), 7:10 p.m. ET
• Tuesday: Nationals (Tim Redding, 6-3, 4.05) at Marlins (Mark Hendrickson, 7-6, 5.93), 7:10 p.m. ET

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