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03/20/09 5:04 PM ET

Balester has up-and-down day

Young right-hander struggles in start against Tigers

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Nationals right-hander Collin Balester had his fifth start of the spring on Friday afternoon at Joker Marchant Stadium, and he ended up having another shaky outing. He pitched four innings and gave up five runs on nine hits in a 5-2 loss to the Tigers.

Balester got off to a slow start by giving up a first-inning solo home run to designated hitter Gary Sheffield. Balester then settled down and blanked Detroit during the next two innings, but then he had a tough time getting hitters out in the fourth inning, giving up four runs. Second baseman Placido Polanco highlighted the scoring with a two-run single.

"I'm trying my hardest and maybe that's a bad thing," Balester said. "I understand what I need to do, but it's tough to be able to do it. I'm working hard and I'm trying to get out of it. Hopefully, it's the beginning of the end of it."

Balester is competing against right-handers Shairon Martis and Jordan Zimmermann for the fourth and fifth spots of the rotation. The way things are going for him right now, Balester most likely will start the season with Triple-A Syracuse.

"It's this thing where five [starters] are pitching great [this spring]. I'm happy for those guys," Balester said. "Every one goes through tough times. I don't wish anything bad on anyone. But I'm just going to work hard and get out of this funk."

Manager Manny Acta thought Balester pitched better than he did last Sunday against Detroit at Space Coast Stadium. In that outing, Balester blanked the Tigers for the three innings, but needed 63 pitches to get the job done.

In Friday's outing, Balester wasn't all over the strike zone. But Acta acknowledged that Balester is a young kid at 22 and still needs to develop his repertoire of pitches.

"I'm not concerned about Balester at all," Acta said. "He is still a young kid and he is developing. I thought he threw the ball better today. He threw some balls downhill and he threw some good changeups. He just had one rough inning. We are not talking about a veteran guy. I wish him to be perfect and to be as good as he wants to be, but there is nothing to be alarmed about. He is still a young guy."

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