- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 17, 2005

Although RFK Stadium might have passed its first test from the perspective of most fans, several players from both the Washington Nationals and Arizona Diamondbacks were not happy with the state of the field for Thursday night’s opener.

The primary area of concern were the mounds, both on the field and in the bullpen.

Nationals starter Livan Hernandez complained early in the game that the dirt was too loose and a deep hole had formed in front of the rubber. Groundskeepers came out before the third inning and tried to fill in the gaps, but manager Frank Robinson said the problem won’t be rectified until they start using harder clay instead of dirt.

“[The mounds] don’t need to be redone completely, but they need a lot of work,” Robinson said.

There were other issues. The Diamondbacks in particular complained about the quality of the infield dirt, with one player saying he had not played on a worse surface since high school.

Some Arizona infielders would not take grounders during pregame warmups because they were worried about bad hops. They did say they understand how difficult the situation is for the RFK grounds crew, which is not only dealing with baseball for the first time but also must regularly convert the field to soccer.

“I think everyone understands it was the first game and they haven’t had a lot of time,” Diamondbacks second baseman Craig Counsell said. “Give them the benefit of the doubt. I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

Armas feels better

The line on Tony Armas Jr.’s first rehab assignment Friday wasn’t a thing of beauty, but the club doesn’t care, because his right groin isn’t bothering him.

Armas threw 54 pitches for the New Orleans Zephyrs, the Nationals’ Class AAA affiliate. In 31/3 innings, he allowed two runs on two hits, walked one and struck out three.

“I’m not real concerned about lines. I’m more concerned on how he felt, especially his first outing and everything — how that leg felt. It felt good, and I’m happy with his first outing,” Nationals pitching coach Randy St. Claire said.

The Nationals placed Armas on the 15-day disabled list March28, one day after he injured himself in a spring training game against the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie, Fla. In that game, Armas retired the side and then removed himself from the game as a precaution.

Armas, slated to be the Nationals’ No. 2 starter, has missed the better part of the last two seasons after having rotator cuff surgery in 2003. That’s why the Nationals are being extra careful with the right-hander.

“He threw the ball better than his line read,” Nationals interim general manager Jim Bowden said. “He threw the ball really well. He threw the ball better than the result.”

Meanwhile, right-handed reliever Claudio Vargas began a rehab assignment with New Orleans last night. Vargas was placed on the 15-day DL on March 16 with a right elbow sprain.

Jackie Robinson day

The Nationals did their part last night to honor the man who broke baseball’s color barrier when they retired Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 during a pregame ceremony. The Nationals unveiled the number on RFK’s right-field wall, where it will hang permanently. No one in baseball is allowed to wear Robinson’s No. 42.

The Nationals became Major League Baseball’s 31st team to retire Robinson’s number. Before the game, the Nationals honored four Jackie Robinson Foundation scholars who attend area colleges and universities. Each will receive $7,500 in financial support from the foundation.

Matthew Gadsen, a senior at Georgetown, threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Nationals first base coach Don Buford. Before the game, the Howard University Gospel Choir sang the national anthem.

Earlier in the day, Nationals reserve outfielder J.J. Davis appeared in the D.C. Emancipation Day parade down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Extra bases

Livan Hernandez spent his night off Friday at the Washington Wizards game and was pleasantly surprised when the crowd roared at the sight of him on the Jumbotron. “People were going crazy,” Hernandez said. “My first complete day in the city, and people recognize me. That made me real happy.” …

A crew from “This Week in Baseball” was following Brad Wilkerson before last night’s game. The segment will air later this spring. … The Nationals will unveil their mascot before today’s 1:05 p.m. game.

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