Notes: Starting pitchers struggling

Notes: Starting pitching remains a trouble spot

VIERA, Fla. -- After six games, the Nationals' pitching staff has given up 45 runs in 51 innings, and 28 of those runs have been surrendered by the starting pitchers.

Manager Manny Acta said he isn't frustrated that most of the starters, who are battling for four spots in the rotations, are having a difficult time getting hitters out.

"It's only six games, obviously these games don't count," Acta said. "It's the second time around now and these guys have been given a fair opportunity to go out there. I think it's time for some of them to step up, because we are not going to hand anybody a job here. We'll see."

It was Colby Lewis' chance to step up on Tuesday, and he yield the Braves four runs on six hits. In the first inning, he gave up four consecutive hits before retiring the first batter. By the end of the inning, Lewis surrendered two runs. In the second inning, he walked pitcher Kyle Davies with one out, and Davies ended up scoring on a sacrifice fly by Edgar Renteria. Kelly Johnson would later score on a double by Willie Harris.

"I felt like I had pretty good command," Lewis said. "The 3-2 pitch to Davies seemed like a strike. It could have gone either way. In the first inning, I thought they were jumping on pitches they wanted to hit. Other than that, I felt really good. It could have gone either way. I was pounding the strike zone."

Acta saw Lewis' outing a bit differently.

"I thought he had a rough beginning, at least he was not wild," Acta said. "He came back after the first four hitters and threw the ball OK, but it's the first outing for him other than facing our own guys in the intrasquad games."

Lewis hasn't played in the big leagues since 2004 because of shoulder surgery, but says that he feels 100 percent on the mound.

"My arms feels great, that's the main thing," Lewis said.

The same old form: Catcher Brian Schneider missed four games because his wife, Jordan, gave birth to a baby girl. He returned to the Nationals on Tuesday and didn't miss a beat. Schneider drove in four runs, including a two-run shot against Macay McBride in the third inning.

"I got some hits, but, before I left, I was working on my swing a lot with [hitting coach] Mitch [Page]," Schneider said. "I felt good in the intrasquad games. I went 0-for-2 against the Dodgers [on Friday], but I really felt good at the plate."

Oh my goodness: Chris Marrero, the Nationals' first-round pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, hit a mammoth home run off right-hander Jim Magrane in the second inning of the team's accelerated game on Tuesday. The ball landed near a truck behind the left-center field fence. The truck was parked next to the batting cages at the Carl Barger complex.

It was Marrero's second home run in as many games. On Monday, he hit an opposite-field home run.

"What I saw yesterday and today, it was very impressive," said Jose Rijo, the special assistant to the general manager. "It's the kind of thing I expect from a guy like that. He has so much potential."

Showing respect: Before Tuesday's game, first baseman Robert Fick apologized to Braves manager Bobby Cox for his confrontation with reliever Mike Gonzalez on Monday. Cox accepted the apology and then told Fick how sorry he was to hear that his mother was ill.

Fick played for Cox in 2003, and Fick ended up having his best season, hitting .269 with 11 home runs and 80 RBIs.

"Bobby Cox knows how I am and how I played the game," Fick said. "The last thing I want to do is have Bobby Cox dislike me."

In the ninth inning on Monday, Gonzalez brushed back Fick with an 0-1 pitch. The ball was high and inside, but the ball never came close to hitting Fick. Still, Fick and Gonzalez had words, but no punches were thrown.

Fick then flied out to center fielder Gregor Blanco for the final out of the game. A few seconds later, Fick and Gonzalez exchanged words again.

Injury report: Travis Lee played his first exhibition game of the spring and went 1-for-2 with two RBIs against the Braves. He missed time because of a right oblique strain.

FYI: Right-hander John Patterson is expected to pitch in the accelerated camp on Thursday, while Jason Simontacchi will pitch on three days' rest against the Astros on the same day. The Nationals announced before Spring Training started that with so many starting pitchers in camp that some of them will pitch on short rest.

Stat of the day: After six games, the Nationals are hitting .246 with four home runs and 25 RBIs.

Did you know? The Nationals are 82-80 while playing at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium the last two years.

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Coming up: The Nationals travel to Kissimmee, Fla., on Wednesday to face the Astros at 1:05 p.m. ET. Washington's Shawn Hill will face Houston right-hander Roy Oswalt.

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