- The Washington Times - Monday, April 11, 2005

MIAMI — The Washington Nationals signed Antonio Osuna this winter counting on him to be one of their most reliable relief pitchers.

One week into the season, Osuna has been far and away the Nationals’ least-reliable pitcher.

The veteran right-hander was pounded for four runs by the Marlins yesterday, turning what had been a tight pitchers’ duel into an 8-0 Florida rout. It was the second time in three days Osuna was victimized by the Marlins — on Friday night, he surrendered a career-high six runs in just one-third of an inning.

In three appearances this season now spanning 21/3 innings, Osuna has surrendered 11 runs, nine hits and seven walks (one intentional), resulting in an unsightly 42.43 ERA.

“I felt good today, the day before yesterday, too,” said Osuna, who gave up all four runs yesterday on a grand slam by Juan Encarnacion. “I think the ball just stayed up.”

Osuna was a late arrival to spring training because he had to attend to his cancer-stricken father, but he felt he had caught up to the rest of his teammates by the time the club broke camp.

He had little explanation for yesterday’s disastrous outing but did say someone in the bullpen remarked he was leaning too far back during his wind-up, perhaps throwing off his mechanics.

Nationals manager Frank Robinson now must find a way to get one of his top setup men straightened out. He said Osuna likely won’t pitch tonight in Atlanta, but he does want to get him back on the mound soon.

“We just have to find a spot where he can have some success,” Robinson said. “I have to stay with him, and I will, but in a situation where he can have success and feel good about himself and get his confidence back.”

Who’s batting second?

For the second straight game, Robinson batted Nick Johnson No. 2 in his lineup, with struggling Cristian Guzman again in the 8-hole.

Don’t look for the switch to be permanent, though. Despite Guzman’s .130 batting average (and Johnson’s .278 average) through the season’s first six games, Robinson said he ultimately prefers to have Guzman back near the top of the lineup.

“I told him, ‘Let’s try to get you going and get you back in the second slot. That would be our best lineup. … [Johnson] has done a good job, but he’s not the ideal No. 2 hitter.”

Guzman did look better at the plate Friday night in his first game batting eighth, going 1-for-2 with a double and two walks. He went 0-for-3 with a strikeout yesterday. Johnson was 1-for-3 with a walk.

Extra bases

After going 1-for-4 yesterday with three strikeouts, leadoff hitter Brad Wilkerson is batting .733 (11-for-15) when he puts the ball in play. Wilkerson, though, has struck out 10 times in six games, dropping his actual average to .440. …

Wilkerson made a spectacular catch in the first inning yesterday, robbing Miguel Cabrera of extra bases on a deep drive to the wall in left-center. Wilkerson has played well in center field through the season’s first six games, but Robinson said he’s likely to move him back to his natural left field position within the next few days, once regular center fielder Ryan Church (who started in left the last two games) has healed completely from a strained groin. …

Florida’s Juan Pierre was back in the lineup after his streak of 1,700 consecutive innings ended Saturday. He has played in 341 consecutive games. …

In the first week of the season, the Nationals hit two extra-inning homers. The Expos hit three all of last year.

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