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Dreary start foreshadows a long, long year at RFK
Steve DeShazo on the Nationals' season opener

Date published: 4/3/2007

By Steve DeShazo

WASHINGTON--Evaluating a baseball team after opening day is like reviewing a movie based on the opening credits. Still, yesterday's miserable debut suggests the 2007 Washington Nationals may be as bad as advertised, a product that even Pauly Shore might turn down.

"With so much doubt in the air, it's easy to say, 'I told you so,'" said starting pitcher John Patterson, who looked like anything but an ace in a 9-2 loss to the Florida Marlins. "We can't pay attention to that."

But it may be impossible not to dwell on a day when Patterson was shelled and two starters (shortstop Cristian Guzman and center fielder Nook Logan) left the game with injuries. Other than the bright sunlight that flooded RFK Stadium, "there were not a lot of positives," Patterson said.

It's enough to make the doomsayers look wise--and the most optimistic fan reach for a drink.

The only thing thinner than the Nationals' talent base is their margin for error or injury. With first baseman Nick Johnson out until July with a broken leg, they can't afford to lose any more players. But until Guzman's strained hamstring and Logan's hyperextended foot heal, there will be a lot of fans checking their rosters to learn the names of Chris Snelling and Josh Wilson.

And if the Nationals seemed confident of anything, it was that Patterson would be the best of a modest pitching staff. He shares initials and a uniform number (22) with Jim Palmer, and he's similarly tall and lanky.

But he's 29 and injury-prone, and he has yet to win more than nine games in a big-league season. At 29, Palmer (with much better support) had two World Series rings and a couple of Cy Youngs. Patterson, to this point, is nobody's ace. But the Nationals are treating him like one, because he's ostensibly the best they've got.

Catcher Brian Schneider insisted that Patterson's velocity was only a couple miles per hour short of optimum yesterday. But he was more concerned about the psyche of a makeshift No. 1 starter.

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