- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 22, 2005

TORONTO — Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson isn’t ready to give up on shell-shocked fifth starter Claudio Vargas. While the clock is certainly ticking on Vargas, Robinson wants to give the right-hander another look before making a decision that could damage his psyche.

For the second time in four days, Vargas was rocked early and often when the Toronto Blue Jays handled him on Friday night. In his last two starts combined, Vargas has pitched just five innings and allowed 11 runs. The Blue Jays pounded him for five runs in 32/3 innings of work.

“You can’t just after one or two starts all of a sudden [take him out of the rotation], because you have affected this guy’s mental state,” Robinson said. “The next time he gets out there in a ballgame and gives up a run or two and is looking over his shoulder and wondering whether he’s going to be taken out of the ballgame. We have to give him enough time to see what he is capable of doing.”

Vargas isn’t the only struggling starting pitcher. Robinson is getting little production from the back end of his rotation. In addition to Vargas (0-2, 9.00 ERA), Zach Day (1-2, 6.00) and Tomo Ohka (2-3, 4.04) have been inconsistent as the Nationals’ fourth and fifth starters.

“You’re always trying to improve on [starters] Nos.4 and 5,” Robinson said. “In the bullpen, it’s Nos.10 and 11. You’re always trying to improve in those areas. That would make the rotation better and that’s what it’s all about.”

Catch of the day

Center fielder Brad Wilkerson made a spectacular eighth-inning leaping catch in yesterday’s 7-0 loss to rob Toronto first baseman Eric Hinske of extra bases.

Running to his right, Wilkerson leaped and reached out with his right hand to catch Hinske’s drive. As Wilkerson was coming down, his back slammed into a seam that separates a padded area and a plexiglass scoreboard built into Rogers Centre’s left-center field fence.

Wilkerson fell to the ground and stayed down approximately 15 seconds.

“I was kind of dizzy for a second, just shook it off, and then I was fine,” Wilkerson said.

Out by a hair

What’s in the bag? You really don’t want to know.

Nationals outfielder Jose Guillen trotted into Robinson’s office about three hours before yesterday’s game clutching a plastic shopping bag. Robinson took one look at the bag’s contents and quickly closed it.

Shortstop Cristian Guzman, mired in a 10-game, 2-for-30 slump entering the game, needed one more hit for the 900th in his career. Guillen did his best to help his teammate by cutting Guzman’s bushy afro and presenting his handiwork to Robinson.

“I think your shortstop is going to start hitting now, look at that,” Guillen said to Robinson.

Guzman said the haircut was unrelated to his cold bat.

“I was tired of having a lot of hair so that’s why I cut it, it’s not a big deal,” Guzman said. “Guillen did it. It’s OK.”

If the move was made with any superstition in mind, it had no short-term effect. Guzman went 0-for-3.

Guillen at DH

Robinson used Guillen as the Nationals designated hitter, but he said the switch from right field to DH had nothing to do with the slugger’s sore ribs. Guillen sat out of the final three games against the Milwaukee Brewers from Tuesday to Thursday.

“We’re giving him a break on having to play defense, that’s all,” Robinson said.

In his first game back since sitting out, Guillen started in right field on Friday night against the Blue Jays and went 0-for-4. Yesterday, Guillen was 1-for-4 with a single. Guillen has been bothered by a strained muscle in his ribcage on his throws and swings.

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