- The Washington Times - Monday, May 30, 2005

ST. LOUIS - The exchange hasn’t changed in more than a month.

Reporter: “Esteban, how frustrating is it not to get any run support?”

Esteban Loaiza: “Hey, what are you going to do” They’re having trouble scoring runs, but they’re battling.”

The way Loaiza shrugs off the Washington Nationals’ lack of offense, it’s hard to help but wonder whether he really cares. After all, Loaiza has eight quality starts this season and only one win to show for it.

The latest came Saturday night at Busch Stadium, when Loaiza (1-4) gave up three runs over six innings but watched helplessly as the Nationals were held to one run and four hits in a 3-1 loss.

Afterward, the veteran right-hander was his usual, blase self, refusing to complain about his run of bad luck. Underneath that calm exterior, though, Loaiza may be burning up.

“He shows a little fire, at the right times and the right places,” manager Frank Robinson said. “But he’s not letting it bother him. Before the ballgames, he’s fine. After it, he’s fine. In between starts, he’s fine. And that’s the way it should be. Pitchers can’t control the offense.”

The Nationals aren’t hitting the ball for anyone these days, but their support for Loaiza is extraordinarily low even by their own standards. Washington is averaging a scant 1.82 runs a Loaiza start, the worst support in the National League.

Byrd in the hand

It has gone mostly unnoticed because of the club’s overall struggles, but Marlon Byrd has proved to be a solid acquisition for the Nationals.

The 27-year-old outfielder, acquired from the Phillies on May14 for Endy Chavez, went 1-for-4 yesterday and has 11 hits in 33 at-bats (a .333 average) as a National.

Platooning with Ryan Church in left field against left-handers, Byrd has started the last two games because of Church’s minor calf injury. After getting benched in Philadelphia, Byrd appreciates his defined role in Washington, even if he hasn’t had much effect on the club’s fortunes yet.

“I’d like more wins right now,” he said. “But other than that, things are going well.”

Byrd has been working considerably with hitting coach Tom McCraw, who is trying to get him to slow himself down a little in the batter’s box and put himself in the right hitting position every time he swings the bat.

So has Byrd seen the results of his work with McCraw”

“Yeah, you can see it,” he said. ?Look up at the board [at my batting average].”

Back to Ohka

Tomo Ohka will make his second start since returning to the rotation today when the Nationals play host to the Atlanta Braves in a nationally televised game at RFK Stadium.

Banished to the bullpen after an up-and-down start to the season, Ohka has given up just two runs and four hits over his last 112/3 innings. His recent performance, plus last week’s demotion of Zach Day and Claudio Vargas to the minors, has ensured him the No.5 spot in Washington’s rotation for the foreseeable future.

Robinson believes a consistent, five-man staff is important after spending the last few weeks shuffling seven pitchers.

“It’s important to stabilize the rotation,” he said. “You need five guys going out there on a regular basis.”

Extra bases

Though today’s 3:05 p.m. game will be televised nationally on both ESPN and TBS, those stations will be blacked out in the Washington area. The game can be seen locally on Channel 20 and MASN. …

Nationals catcher Brian Schneider had thrown out six straight runners trying to steal against him before Albert Pujols swiped second base in the fifth inning yesterday. Schneider still has thrown out an impressive 42.9 percent of runners this year.

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