What do you do when you're the worst team in the National League and off to a 0-7 start? If you're the Washington Nationals, you designate a scapegoat. Sorry it went down like this, Lastings Milledge, but someone had to lose. Say hi to Jim Boeheim for us when you get to Triple-A Syracuse.
The Nats spent most of the offseason stuffing their outfield full of options they really didn't need; the trade for Josh Willingham never made sense (don't even get me started on Scott Olsen), and while signing Adam Dunn was a reasonable move, he fits much better at first base, not left field. Add it all up and Manny Acta had five options to consider for three slots: Milledge, Dunn, Willingham, Elijah Dukes and Austin Kearns.
Dukes probably is the best player in the bunch and the guy who absolutely needed to be on the field, but he was the odd man out for some of the early games, forced to watch Kearns (3-for-19) and Willingham (0-for-11) take empty swings. Milledge wasn't any better at the plate (4-for-24, one walk, 10 strikeouts) and he's been a carnival in the outfield, but the team seemed willing to ride it out with its toolsy centerfielder … for the first eight days, anyway.
Was it Milledge's lack of plate discipline that led to this decision? The ongoing problems in center field? Maybe it was something off the field – he was late to a couple of meetings, after all. Or maybe the Nats just wanted to shake up their dead-ass ballclub. That's for them to know, I guess.
At least the Milledge demotion simplifies the Washington outfield for the time being; Dukes takes over in center and becomes a fantastic look-what-I-found pickup for anyone playing in a thin mixed league; Dunn will continue to see full-time duty at both his positions; Kearns and Willingham basically time-share the other spot.
What do Milledge owners do today? Depends on the shape of your league; he's still worth holding in a deeper group with numerous bench spots, but in thinner groups with less stash space, you can't get sentimental. There's no one-size-fits-all advice for this type of situation. I'm currently holding onto my Milledge share in the Friends & Family League (14 teams, 3 bench spots), but I can't guarantee this will be a long-term commitment – I've got a wandering eye when it comes to free agents.
• The Kyle Davies streaming experiment turned out to be a push – his so-so line against Cleveland (5.2 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 5 K) pushed the percentages up a bit, but he also got a win and looked a little better than the numbers indicate. He's got three good pitches – not great ones, good ones – and there's a pedigree here if you look hard enough for it, so I'll stick with the Davies story for a while and see where it leads.
Don't pay too much attention to the two homers John Buck hit; he's notorious for having short bursts like this, but it never lasts. He was impressive behind the plate, however, doing an excellent job blocking a handful of pitches in the dirt.
• Unfortunately it's another "here we go again" moment for Chris Carpenter, who worked three scoreless in Arizona before a rib cage injury forced him out of action. "It looks like he is going to be out for a while," Tony La Russa said after the game. "I'm not happy, I'm not going to fake it." When I hear how the Cards plan to juggle their rotation, I'll pass it along.
• Even on a lazy night in Arlington we still got 12 runs and six homers to divvy up, even if it took 10 innings to get all the production out. Ty Wigginton went hitless for the victorious Orioles but nonetheless he's someone to grab right away in medium and deeper groups; Melvin Mora (hamstring) is probably headed for the disabled list and Wiggy figures to be a regular for at least the rest of the month. Don't sell this Baltimore lineup short, there's plenty of intriguing bats here.
Chris Davis homered for the second straight night on the other side, so come in off the ledge, all is safe. Ron Washington continues to play it aggressively on the bases but it didn't pay off Tuesday, as Ian Kinsler and David Murphy were both thrown out.
• The A's and Red Sox had an extra-innings beauty going until Boston's Javier Lopez entered for the bottom of the 12th; three walks and one infield hit later, the hosts had their victory. You don't want to over-react to early-season results, but David Ortiz (0-for-5, .172) definitely doesn't look right to me. Daisuke Matsuzaka had nothing in his one inning (five runs), then hit the showers; the team says he's dealing with arm fatigue.
• The Mariners bullpen did an amazing Houdini act Tuesday, parceling out nine baserunners over three innings but not allowing a run. The Ms eventually got the game in the 10th, courtesy of an unearned run against Scot Shields. Trendy Endy Chavez continues to produce (two hits, one RBI), and it will be interesting to see if he keeps a regular spot now that Ichiro Suzuki is ready to play (Ichiro will be in Wednesday's lineup).
• The Yanks didn't want to pitch Nick Swisher on consecutive nights, apparently, but there's nothing wrong with Nick's stick these days. He rapped a double and a homer at Tampa Tuesday, supporting another brilliant start from early-season savior A.J. Burnett (8 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 9 K). Matt Garza pretty much matched Burnett pitch for pitch (7 IP, 2 R, 9 K), but the game got away from the Rays bullpen (J.P. Howell took the loss, and Dan Wheeler gave up four in the ninth).
• The Marlins continue to look like a legitimate playoff contender, improving to 6-1 behind Chris Volstad's power sinker (7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 4 K). There wasn't a save to be had but Leo Nunez and Matt Lindstrom were effective nonetheless, putting down six of seven batters. You know all about the Emilio Bonifacio experience (two more hits, two more runs), but keep an eye on catcher John Baker (two hits, .353), who's batting second against right-handed starters. On the other side, it was a typical Javier Vazquez start; electric stuff at times (12 strikeouts), but he still found a way to allow three runs over six innings, and get beat.
• Predicting the matrix known as Bronson Arroyo is not a fun exercise, but he got away with pitching to contact in Milwaukee Tuesday (6.1 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 3 K). Jerry Hairston had a snappy game for the Reds in the No. 2 slot (3-3-1-2, homer, two walks); it's a shame the Reds don't have a regular spot for him. Carlos Villanueva got an inning of work in for the Brewers and was kicked around for the second consecutive outing (four hits, three runs).
• Ricky Romero and Glen Perkins hooked up in a streamer's delight battle in the Metrodome, settling for a 2-2 draw after eight innings. Perkins had just four strikeouts and Romero managed only two, but two solid turns in the hitter's league deserves our attention, at least. Romero gets Oakland on the weekend, while Perkins goes up against the Angels.
Scott Downs continues to look like Toronto's best reliever, throwing a clean frame and striking out two; he's now got nine whiffs, against no walks, over 4.1 scoreless innings. The Twins won it in the tenth against Jesse Carlson; Joe Crede's double up the gap ended the game.
Speed Round: A nagging elbow injury knocked Xavier Nady out of Tuesday's game and he'll have an MRI Wednesday . . . Evan Longoria will miss the next two games due to a family matter. Look for him to return Friday. … Is Alex Gordon (hip) 100 percent healthy right now? He struck out three times Tuesday – against Carl Pavano of all people – and is now 2-for-18 to start the year. … George Sherrill lost his save chance when the Orioles scored four runs in the top of the tenth, and maybe he lost some focus too – he wound up allowing four hits and two runs in a messy 26-pitch outing. … Jonathan Papelbon worked a scoreless inning, just his third appearance of the year (when you're not winning, the closer isn't needed so much). … Chad Qualls had plenty of stuff in the ninth against the Cardinals but he had no idea where it was going; that's the recipe for a blown save (four hits, two runs, and okay, three strikeouts too). The Snakes wound up winning the game in the tenth on Eric Byrnes's walk-off hit. … Josh Beckett will appeal the six-game suspension he got for throwing at Bobby Abreu. … The Nats are hoping Cristian Guzman (hamsting) can avoid the DL; he pulled up lame after rapping out his fifth hit Monday. … Tom Glavine has an inflammed rotator cuff and, sadly, it looks like his career might be over. If so, thanks for the memories, forty-seven.