- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Frank Robinson didn’t need to hold a team meeting and he didn’t need to rant and rave to the media.

With Robinson, actions speak louder than words. And the only action the Washington Nationals manager needed to send a message to his players yesterday was the simple task of posting the starting lineup in the home clubhouse at RFK Stadium.

One quick glance at the new-look starting nine said it all: Things had been going downhill long enough. It was time for a change. And it was time for the Nationals to get the message.

They got it.

“I’m not going to say [the changes] paid off,” catcher Brian Schneider said. “But maybe it got some people’s attention.”

Playing their crispest and most-inspired baseball in weeks, the Nationals beat the Colorado Rockies 4-0 last night in what Robinson can only hope was the first sign of better things to come.

“The guys we put in there did the job tonight. It’s as simple as that,” Robinson said. “We have to go out and win a ballgame [-] that was the message tonight. And the players in the lineup did a very good job. We had some life.”

Life that seemed to have been missing in recent weeks. The low point came Monday night in a 5-4 loss that Robinson called “the worst game we’ve played.” So the manager decided it was time to shake things up.

Cristian Guzman and his .190 batting average? Benched, replaced by utility man Jamey Carroll.

Vinny Castilla and his wobbly left knee? Benched, replaced by veteran Carlos Baerga.

Brad Wilkerson and his .260 batting average? Moved from leadoff to third in the lineup, where he’d have more opportunities to drive in runs, and replaced by Carroll.

And Schneider and his suddenly red-hot bat? Bumped from seventh to fifth, where he might take advantage of his recent success (a .358 average since June 1).

That new look, combined with a stellar pitching effort from John Patterson, gave the Nationals and the RFK crowd of 30,655 reason to smile for a change.

“It could be a wake-up call,” left fielder Ryan Church said. “I guess it depends on the individual, how you look at it. If change was needed, then so be it.”

The biggest change might have been in the relaxed atmosphere surrounding the Nationals’ clubhouse after this one. For once, they didn’t have to go to bed worried they might be leapfrogged in the standings overnight by the Atlanta Braves.

For once, they also didn’t have to sweat it out through the final innings. For the first time since an 8-2 win at Texas on June[ThSp]19, Washington won a game by more than three runs.

Not that there still wasn’t one brief moment of fear, when the Rockies put their first two batters on base to open the ninth. Never fear, Chad Cordero entered to close out the inning and notch his 33rd save.

As good as the pitching was, though, the big story was without a doubt Robinson’s revamped lineup. The new look may not have produced an all-out offensive explosion, but it did produce a more-efficient attack.

The Nationals scored two runs in the second inning, on a Preston Wilson walk, a Church RBI double and an RBI single by Carroll. They didn’t cross the plate again off Rockies right-hander Shawn Chacon (1-6) in his seven innings of work, but they tagged ex-teammate Zach Day for two runs in the eighth to add to the lead.

“The only way you’re going to score runs is by putting men on base,” Robinson said.

Not that the Nationals needed much offense the way Patterson was cruising along.

Perhaps inspired himself to come up big one night after Tony Armas Jr. had to be lifted in the third inning due to dehydration, Patterson (4-2) gave all he had in his best outing of the year.

The right-hander surrendered just three hits [-] singles by Eric Byrnes in the second, Luis Gonzalez in the fifth and Aaron Miles [-] while walking two. He struck out eight, and most importantly kept his pitch count to a minimum, needing only 108 to make it through eight-plus innings.

This after taking some criticism from Robinson his last time out for throwing too many pitches and needing to come out after only six innings.

“That was very, very important,” Robinson said. “Because he had something left late in the game. If he had a high pitch count, there’s no way he could have gone seven or eight innings tonight. No way could he have done it.”

The Nationals and insiders throughout baseball have known for some time that Patterson is capable of greatness when he’s on. Scouts and general managers rave about his “stuff,” and though he only has four wins to show for it, Patterson has without a doubt established himself as Washington’s No. 2 starter behind Livan Hernandez.

Not sure about that assessment? Consider the following: In 17 starts, Patterson now owns a 2.69 ERA. That ranks fifth in the National League, and the names above him constitute a who’s who of pitchers: Roger Clemens, Chris Carpenter, Roy Oswalt and Pedro Martinez.

“A lot of things in my career have led to this season,” Patterson said. “I think I’ve been in a lot of situations that I can draw from. There are situations I’ve dealt with this year that I would not have dealt with well in the past.”

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