- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 9, 2005

MIAMI — It was only a matter of time before the Washington Nationals’ surprisingly potent lineup finally lost its punch.

The Nationals just wish their bats hadn’t gone from white hot to ice cold in less than 24 hours.

Showing no resemblance to the club that pounded out 40 hits over the season’s first three games, Washington was stymied last night by Florida left-hander Dontrelle Willis in a 9-0 loss to the Marlins before 19,327 at Dolphins Stadium.

A Nationals lineup that felt like it could do no wrong when it left Philadelphia on Thursday could do no right once it landed in South Florida. Manager Frank Robinson’s troops managed only five singles and a walk against Willis, who was brilliant in tossing his third career shutout.

“He’s got good stuff. He just seems to have our number,” Robinson said of Willis, who is now 6-2 with a 2.36 ERA in eight career starts against the Nationals/Expos.

Robinson, though, is nothing if not a realist, and even he had to admit before last night’s game that he was “as surprised as anyone” at his club’s season-opening offensive explosion.

Neither Robinson nor his players were too down on themselves after this one, chalking things up as much to Willis’ dominance as their own struggles.

“I wanted to see what we could do against a guy who’s been tough on us in the past,” Robinson said. “I was hoping we’d do little better offensively and do a better job of putting pressure on him. But we didn’t get anything going.”

Despite their fireworks display in Philadelphia, the Nationals’ lineup still has plenty of issues, particularly in the No. 2 spot, where shortstop Cristian Guzman has opened the season 2-for-18.

Guzman, the club’s hottest hitter early in the spring, has been slumping for weeks now, and Robinson said he may have to consider dropping him to eighth in the lineup.

“He’s the one that I’m really concerned about,” the manager said before Guzman went 0-for-4 and grounded into two double plays last night. “He’s not putting into play the pitches he’s supposed to hit. He’s swinging at a lot of breaking balls in the dirt.”

Guzman, who could be seen moments after the game hitting balls in the Nationals’ batting tunnel, wasn’t alone in his struggles last night. J.J. Davis, making his second straight start in left field against a left-handed pitcher, went 0-for-3 and grounded into two double plays. Cleanup hitter Jose Guillen twice grounded out to the pitcher.

“We’re going to hit,” Guillen said. “Just because one guy comes today and pitches a good game, it doesn’t mean we’re going through a situation. It’s a long season, guys. It’s only one day. He pitched a good game. We’re going to face him again.”

Willis has a way of making even the best of lineups look silly, and the demonstrative left-hander certainly did that last night. Aside from Brad Wilkerson’s game-opening single to right — his ninth hit in 10 at-bats — and an infield single by pitcher Tomo Ohka in the third, Willis (1-0) was in complete control.

Washington didn’t advance a man past first base until the ninth inning, and thanks to the four double plays stranded only two runners all night against Willis, who continues to develop into one of the game’s best young (23) pitchers.

“Us young guys, the more we go out there, the more confident we get,” Willis said.

Ohka (0-1) wasn’t nearly as sharp in his season debut, giving up three runs on five hits in six innings. The right-hander put himself in a hole early, surrendering a towering home run to Miguel Cabrera in the first inning, a 426-foot blast that cleared the out-of-town scoreboard in left-center. Cabrera one-upped himself in the eighth, sending a 443-foot shot into the upper deck off Washington reliever Antonio Osuna, who surrendered a career-high six runs in only one-third of an inning.

Ohka also served up a homer to Mike Lowell, a solo shot in the sixth.

“That wasn’t him out there on the mound,” Robinson said. “That wasn’t a classic Ohka performance tonight. … I was surprised he survived as long as he did out there.”

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