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04/05/07 10:16 PM ET

Nats fall short in comeback attempt

Young goes deep in the loss to Diamondbacks

WASHINGTON -- Last Saturday, Jason Bergmann had his worst start of Spring Training. He threw 92 pitches and gave up three runs in 3 2/3 innings against the Orioles. The biggest problem was that he couldn't find the strike zone as he walked seven batters.

Five days later, when the games really matter, Bergmann still had problems finding the strike zone and the Nationals paid for it as they lost, 4-3, on Thursday night in front of 16,017 fans at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium.

One has to wonder when the Nationals are going to get a quality start. No one in the rotation has pitched past the fifth inning. In Bergmann's case, the box score looks almost the same as last Saturday. He lasted 3 2/3 innings as he walked six batters. The first inning was his worst, when he threw 50 pitches and walked three batters. Overall, he threw 91 pitches.

"I didn't throw enough strikes," Bergmann said. "That pretty much what happened. When I threw strikes, they fouled them off and I thought I could have had a couple of more strikes, but you take what you are given and you try to improve."

The Diamondbacks had the bases loaded when Conor Jackson walked on a 3-2 pitch to force home Eric Byrnes. Bergmann thought he may have been squeezed on the last pitch to Jackson, but no one argued with home plate umpire James Hoye. On the replay, it looked like the ball was low and inside.

"It was called a ball. I'm not going to dispute the umpire. It probably border line. If I had thrown better strikes, maybe that's a pitch that is called later on," Bergmann said.

Chris Young followed and hit a two-run single. Two innings later, Orlando Hudson made it 4-0 when he hit a home run to left-center field.

"I felt great the whole game. You look up and you see I have 50 pitches," Bergmann said. "...You can only throw so many pitches in a day. You can't go out there and throw 200 pitches."

Bergmann left the game after giving up a two-out single to Hudson to load the bases and that meant the bullpen was pressed into service early again.

"Obviously, there is not that much pressure to pitch over here and we are giving everybody the opportunity. Bergmann has good stuff, but he has to trust it," manager Manny Acta said. "At this level, walking guys and pitching 2-0 and 3-1, it's tough."

Micah Bowie, Jesus Colome and Jon Rauch pitched a combined 5 1/3 innings without giving up a run. In the last two games, the bullpen hasn't given up a run in 10 1/3 innings. Overall, the relievers have pitched 19 2/3 innings. The Nationals can't afford to have their bullpen taxed this early. Fortunately, they are carrying 12 pitchers to keep some of the pitchers fresh.

"It's not frustrating," said reliever Ray King. "It's the same situation where some starters are trying to come in and still trying to find their niche with the situation. My theory is, 'We pick them up in April, and they pick us up in September.' You have a lot of guys that are going 200 innings so they are going to pick it up the last couple off months. One day the bullpen can throw five innings and the next time they might not pitch for a week.

"If you carry 11 pitchers, you are asking for trouble because you never know when you have to lose that long man. We are in a situation where Bowie will be down tomorrow. If we had 11 men, we would be stuck with four guys and a closer. That extra guy really helps."

The Nationals may have scored three runs, but they were 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position. Washington was able to get a run back against starter Edgar Gonzalez in the fourth inning, when reliever Bowie grounded out to score Ryan Church.

An inning later, Dmitri Young hit a home run, while Brian Schneider brought home Austin Kearns with a groundout in the seventh.

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