Chico showing signs of pressing
Nationals starter allows five runs in first two innings, falls to 0-5
WASHINGTON -- Just when the Nationals thought that Matt Chico turned the corner after pitching eight solid innings against the Braves on April 11, it's time for them to ask: What's wrong with the promising young left-hander?
Chico had his third consecutive subpar outing in the Nationals' 7-0 loss to the Cubs on Saturday. He lasted four innings and gave up five runs on eight hits, falling to 0-5. In his last three games, Chico has allowed 16 runs in 13 innings.
In the past, mechanical issues were the cause of Chico's bad outings, and, through the help of pitching coach Randy St. Claire, he would always find a way to fix the problems. This time, however, there was nothing wrong with Chico's mechanics.
St. Claire said before the game that Chico is pressing on the mound. The reason St. Claire gave was surprising, because Chico is a guy who has a reputation of having ice water in his veins. Manager Manny Acta has often said he never knows how Chico is feeling because he doesn't show his emotions.
"I think he is trying to do too much. I think he has been overthrowing and pressing, trying to help us stop a [losing] streak," St. Claire said. "I think everybody has been pressing a little. His warmups are very good, and then, in the game, he couldn't command the ball where he wanted to throw it. That's overthrowing.
"I think if he backs off a little bit, trusts his stuff, realizes he doesn't have to do it all and executes his pitches, he will be fine. Just because he's stone-faced does not mean he is not pressing like a lot of these guys. You don't see a lot of emotions out of Zim [Ryan Zimmerman] and Kernsy [Austin Kearns], but yet, I think as a group, we are all trying to do more instead of just relaxing and saying, 'Hey, I have to do the best that I can do.'
"This game isn't about how hard you go. It's a game where you have to be really relaxed, free and easy."
Chico didn't execute his pitches in the first two innings. In the top of the first inning, which lasted 18 minutes, the Cubs scored three runs. Mark DeRosa highlighted the scoring with a two-run single. The next inning was just as bad, as Chico gave up a two-run double to Derrek Lee.
Chico, who never established his fastball in the game, agreed with St. Claire's assessment that he is pressing on the mound.
"I think I'm trying to do too much. I just have to settle down and let everything happen," Chico said. "I'm trying to get out of the rut that I'm in."
Acta is the one guy in the organization who has shown loyalty to Chico, because the latter never missed a turn in the rotation and has the ability to make adjustments. It appears that loyalty will not go away anytime soon.
Asked how long he can stick with Chico in the rotation, Acta said, "We don't know yet. It's five more months of baseball. I'm not saying I might stick with him the whole season if he continues to pitch like this. [But] it's only been a month. If we're going to make [a decision] on a month here, there would be a lot of guys out of here by now."
Chico hesitantly said that he is not worried about his job.
"You can only do what you can do. Everything is going to play out the way it's supposed to play out," he said.
Cubs right-hander Carlos Zambrano was the antithesis of Chico. Zambrano held the Nationals to five hits, while striking out five batters. The only time the Nationals made any serious threat was in the first and seventh innings. In the first, Washington had runners on first and third with two outs, but Lastings Milledge struck out to end the inning.
In the seventh, they had runners on second and third with two outs, but Zimmerman struck out swinging.
"He comes right after you," catcher Johnny Estrada said. "He pounds the strike zone. He believes in his fastball. It's overpowering. It's good enough to get you out. He doesn't go out there throwing meatballs. He locates from both sides of the plate. He rarely pitches in patterns."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.