- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 17, 2005

PHILADELPHIA — First it was Cristian Guzman’s bat that mysteriously left him. Now, it’s his glove.

Guzman, a .266 lifetime hitter who has dropped to .188 this season, also has started to break down in the field. Over his last eight games, the normally sure-fielding Guzman committed six errors.

With the Washington Nationals in the heat of a pennant race, manager Frank Robinson said he might consider sitting down Guzman in favor of Jamey Carroll at shortstop.

“I might, I’m not going to sit here and tell you I wouldn’t, but I might,” Robinson said.

Guzman was unavailable for comment before last night’s game, which was rained out and will be made up as part of a doubleheader tomorrow.

An example of Guzman’s recent fielding problems took place in the ninth inning of the Nationals’ 6-3 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies in Monday’s opener of this four-game series. With the Nationals holding a four-run lead and one out away from a victory, Guzman booted a routine grounder that led to an unearned run. Eventually, the tying run came to the plate.

“You can take a guy from Class Z ball and he would at least catch that ball,” Robinson said. “There’s nothing puzzling about those errors and I can think about three or four of those he’s had in the last eight games.”

Guzman, 27, was the Nationals’ most expensive offseason acquisition at $16.8million over four years. Now, some within the club are trying to formulate an exit strategy: how to get rid of their expensive shortstop and recoup some of the money.

Ideally, another team in need of a shortstop would pick up some of his contract. Even if that were to happen, the Nationals are thin at the position in their farm system. Nineteen-year-old Ian Desmond, the organization’s top shortstop prospect, was promoted to high-Class A Potomac last month, but he’s perhaps three years away from being ready to play in the majors.

Over his previous three seasons with the Minnesota Twins, Guzman had a .981 fielding percentage with 35 errors. Guzman currently has a .967 fielding percentage with 14 errors this season.

“To me, major league shortstops [need] to make the routine plays,” Robinson said. “Occasionally, you’re going to make the terrific plays. I think that’s what satisfies everybody in this game, your pitcher, your pitching coach, your hitting coach, your fielding coach, the manager, whatever.”

The Nationals have been able to carry Guzman all season because his fielding has been acceptable. The question becomes just how much longer they can afford to keep him in the lineup.

Robinson had Guzman penciled in as the starting shortstop and eighth spot in the order last night. Carroll makes the routine plays. But with Jose Vidro hobbled with sore quadriceps in both legs, Robinson needs Carroll more as Vidro’s backup than his starting shortstop because Guzman can’t play second.

Is Watson out?

Outfielder Brandon Watson homered and doubled in his major league debut Aug.9 in Houston as the Nationals’ leadoff hitter but has dropped to a .158 average in 19 at-bats.

For the third straight game, Watson was not in Robinson’s starting lineup last night.

“The way things were going I got to feeling that he may not be ‘the guy’ to turn us around or give us that shot in the arm,” Robinson said. “He can help. He can help us win ballgames.”

Extra bases

Class AAA New Orleans outfielder Matt Cepicky injured a knee Sunday in the second game of a doubleheader for the Zephyrs and will miss the remainder of the season. Cepicky, whom the Nationals called up twice this season, will have an MRI today in Washington. The Zephyrs believe Cepicky has a torn MCL. … The Washington Nationals Foundation will hold a Diamond Gala at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Sept.29. All proceeds will benefit the foundation, the charitable arm of the Nationals. The gala will serve as the foundation’s second major fund-raiser following the April3 exhibition game against the New York Mets at RFK Stadium, which generated more than $550,000.

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