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Nats are in a sticky situation

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Nats are in a sticky situation

At the end of a frustrating -- and, as it turned out, controversial -- night at the ballpark, the Nationals find themselves in something of a sticky situation.

And that has nothing to do with the pine tar found on Rays reliever Joel Peralta's glove before the bottom of the eighth inning on Tuesday, though that violation of the baseball rule book became the primary topic of discussion inside both clubhouses.

No, of greater importance to the Nationals right now is what to do with the one weak link in their otherwise dominant rotation. After watching Chien-Ming Wang struggle yet again through 3 13 laborious innings -- the No. 1 culprit in his team's 5-4 loss to Tampa Bay -- manager Davey Johnson couldn't definitively say whether the veteran right-hander will remain as his fifth starter.

"I know how good he can be," Johnson said. "My job is to try to get everybody doing the things they're capable of doing. That's my job. If I thought he could get better out of the bullpen or starting, that would come into the decision. I'm not going to make a decision right after a rough outing."

If Johnson was giving any thought to removing Wang from the rotation and going back to Ross Detwiler, the latter certainly made as strong a case for himself as possible coming out of the bullpen and keeping this game close.

Summoned in the bottom of the fourth to bail out Wang, Detwiler wound up tossing 3 23 innings of scoreless, hitless relief. He retired 11 of 12 batters faced, the lone exception Carlos Pena (who was hit by a pitch in the seventh).

In six total appearances since he was sent to the bullpen to open a starting spot for Wang, Detwiler now boasts a 1.35 ERA and only seven hits allowed over 13 13 innings. The 26-year-old left insists, however, he's not thinking about a possible move back to the rotation.

"I am where I am right now," Detwiler said. "I've got to get comfortable with that, and that's the only way I'm going to throw well. I know farther down the road, there's a good chance I'll be back, whether it be next year or whenever it will be. But I think I'm starting to get comfortable down in the bullpen."

As comfortable as Detwiler has looked in the bullpen, Wang has looked anything but comfortable since joining the rotation three weeks ago. He's now made four starts and failed to complete six innings in any of them, compiling a 6.62 ERA while putting an astounding 40 men on base over 17 23 innings.

The problem, the Nationals believe, is mechanical. Wang has been "rushing" through his throwing motion, with his right arm lagging behind the rest of his body.

"His arm strength is back, but he's still trying to do too much and not getting in position to locate the ball well," Johnson said. "That was his problem."

"I think overall my arm still feels good, and actually today I could feel on top of the ball, on my finger," Wang said. "But I just couldn't locate the ball very well today."

When Wang departed the game in the fourth, the Nationals trailed 5-2. Thanks to Detwiler's dominance and then a two-run homer from Michael Morse (his first of the season) in the sixth, they reduced the deficit to one.

But the Nationals didn't put another man on base after Morse's blast, unable to get anything going late against Rays starter David Price or three relievers. Er, make that two relievers, because Peralta (though he officially appeared in the game) never actually threw a pitch.

The 36-year-old right-hander was a popular member of the Nationals' bullpen in 2010, and he pitched well, posting a 2.02 ERA in 39 games. Over the winter, though, the organization made the somewhat strange decision not to tender him a contract.

Before Tuesday's game, Johnson saw Peralta on the field in a Tampa Bay uniform and rhetorically asked why the Nationals let him get away.

"One thing led to another," the manager said, "and I got probably more information than I really needed."

Without offering up specifics, or revealing who specifically told him, Johnson said there had been "some chirping" about Peralta using pine tar in his glove. So when Rays manager Joe Maddon summoned for his setup man before the bottom of the eighth, Johnson emerged from his dugout and asked plate umpire Tim Tschida to check the pitcher's glove.

And what did Tschida find in the glove?

"It was a significant amount of pine tar," the veteran umpire told a pool reporter.

Thus, the glove was confiscated and Peralta was immediately ejected, per Rule 8.02(a), which states that a pitcher may not "apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball." Peralta also now is subject to a mandatory suspension.

Maddon was incensed by Johnson's request to check the glove.

"It's kind of a common practice that people have done this for years, and to point one guy out because he had pitched here a couple years ago there probably was some common knowledge based on that," the Rays manager said. "And so I thought it was a real cowardly ... it was kind of a wuss move to go out there and to that under those circumstances. I like the word wuss move right there."

When the top of the ninth arrived, Maddon had Tschida check Nationals reliever Ryan Mattheus' glove and hat. The umpire found nothing. Mattheus couldn't help but smile.

"I'm not going to take it personal," the right-hander said. "It's gamesmanship. We did it to them. I'm sure they wanted to make sure that we weren't at an unfair advantage with something sticky in our gloves and stuff like that. I didn't take it as an insult at all."

Who was it that tipped Johnson off about Peralta's penchant for pine tar use? No one inside the Nationals' clubhouse was saying, and members of the bullpen uniformly had nothing but positive things to say about their former teammate.

"I played with Joel in 2009 with the Rockies and he's a great, great guy," Mattheusa said. "Standup guy. I don't think he's out there cheating, trying to get over on us or anything like that. But it's unfortunate."

Though such ejections for foreign substances are rare, this wasn't the first time it happened to a pitcher facing the Nationals.

On June 14, 2005 in Anaheim, outfielder Jose Guillen (who played for the Angels the previous year) told manager Frank Robinson that reliever Brendan Donnelly used pine tar on his glove. Robinson got Donnelly ejected from that game, setting off a bench-clearing incident between the two clubs that featured the 69-year-old Robinson and Angels manager Mike Scioscia going toe-to-toe.

Scioscia's bench coach that night: Joe Maddon. One of the umpires who confiscated Donnelly's glove: Tim Tschida.

"This one was a lot calmer," Tschida said. "The managers both kept their cool. The one in Anaheim, I had to separate Scioscia and Frank Robinson."

There was no extracurricular activity Tuesday night, but surely both sides and the umpiring crew will be watching for any residual issues the rest of this series. Wednesday night's scheduled starters: Stephen Strasburg and Chris Archer, making his big-league debut.

Perhaps the best indication of what might still come was uttered by Maddon at the end of his postgame media session, clearly upset with his counterpart in the other dugout.

Said Maddon: "Before you start throwing rocks, understand where you live."

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May the odds be ever in your favor: Vegas sets over/unders for 2018 MLB season

May the odds be ever in your favor: Vegas sets over/unders for 2018 MLB season

The start of spring training is a glimmer of hope during the cold of winter. It means warm weather, cold beers and hot dogs at the ballpark are coming your way.

It's our first chance to get a taste of how our favorite team is shaping up for the 2018 season, and for those who are not quite into just the game itself, betting odds.

CG Technology, a Las Vegas sportsbook operator, has set the 2018 odds for each MLB team.

Specifically, how are things looking for the local teams?

RELATED: 2018 SPRING TRAINING REPORT DATES

Washington Nationals: 91 1/2 wins

The 2018 season is looked at by many as the last World Series run for some time for the Nationals and their core group of players. Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Gio Gonzalez will become free agents after the 2018 season in addition to general manager and President of Baseball Operations, Mike Rizzo.

In 2017, the team won 97 games and went on to win the NL East, but couldn't make it past the first-round of the National League Division Series. In 2018, Vegas is giving the Nats 7/2 odds of taking the National League title. They are just behind the Chicago Cubs, who knocked them out of contention last season, at 4/1 odds.

As far as winning the World Series, Vegas is giving the guys an 8/1 chance of their first title, tied with the Cubs.

Baltimore Orioles: 77 1/2 wins

The O's finished the 2017 season with 75 wins, which could be considered somewhat of an accomplishment considering their pitching resources.

The same problem will occur in 2018 as the organization hasn't signed any new starting pitchers. Vegas is giving them 50/1 odds of taking the American League title and 100/1 odds of winning the World Series.

The lack of depth in their rotation will come back to bite them as division rival New York Yankees have 5/1 odds of winning the World Series and the Red Sox have 10/1 odds.

A below average season should be expected.

A few other standouts, good and bad, include the Miami Marlins at 500/1 odds of winning the World Series, the Kansas City Royals at 200/1 and current champions, the Houston Astros, at 6/1 odds.

RELATED: FORMER NATS PITCHER ARRESTED WITH MORE THAN 40 POUNDS OF SUSPECTED COCAINE

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Former Nationals pitcher Esteban Loaiza arrested with more than 40 pounds of suspected cocaine

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Former Nationals pitcher Esteban Loaiza arrested with more than 40 pounds of suspected cocaine

SAN DIEGO — Former All-Star pitcher Esteban Loaiza has been arrested on suspicion of trafficking drugs after packages containing a white powder believed to be cocaine were found at a home he rented in Southern California, officials said Monday.

The 46-year-old former Major League Baseball player was booked Friday on charges involving the possession, transport and sale of 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of suspected cocaine worth an estimated $500,000, according to the San Diego Sheriff's Department.

Loaiza played for numerous teams between 1995 and 2008, starting with the Pittsburgh Pirates and concluding with his second stint with the Chicago White Sox. He had a 21-9 record with the Chicago White Sox in 2003 and started in the All-Star Game that year.

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He also played one season for the Washington Nationals in 2005 — the team's inaugural season in D.C. after the franchise changed from the Montreal Expos. During his one season in Washington, Loaiza finished with a 12-10 record adn a 3.77 ERA over 34 games played that year.

It was not immediately known if Loaiza had hired a lawyer and the former player could not be reached to comment. He was being held Monday for lack of $200,000 bail pending a court appearance on Wednesday.

Loaiza's agent, John Boggs, told the San Francisco Chronicle that he had no information about the arrest and that he has not spoken to Loaiza recently. He said that Loaiza had called his office early last week but Boggs was unavailable at the time.

"I am shocked and saddened by the news and had no indication he would ever be in this type of situation," Boggs said in a text to the newspaper. "I don't know how he would get himself involved in this, so it's difficult to even comment on it."

Officers stopped Loaiza for a minor traffic infraction Friday after he left the home he started renting recently in the Pacific coast community of Imperial Beach, along the U.S.-Mexico border. Authorities had the vehicle under surveillance on suspicion it was used for smuggling drugs.

When they searched the vehicle, they found a sophisticated compartment used to conceal contraband, authorities said. That led them to obtain a search warrant for Loaiza's rental home, where they found the packages of drugs, according to investigators.

The packages containing a white powder are still being tested but are believed to be cocaine, said San Diego Sheriff's Lt. Jason Vickery.

Loaiza was born in Tijuana, Mexico and was married for two years to the late Mexican-American singer Jenni Rivera. She filed for divorce shortly before she died in a plane crash in 2012.

The 43-year-old Rivera was known as the "Diva de la Banda" and died as her career was peaking. She was perhaps the most successful female singer in grupero, a male-dominated Mexico regional style, sold more than 15 million records, and moved into acting and reality television.

Loaiza sued the aircraft's owners in 2014 for wrongful death but her relatives accused him of trying to profit from her death. He denied the accusations and later retracted his lawsuit.

NBC Sports Washington contributed to this report.

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