- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2006

As the Washington Nationals leadoff hitter, outfielder Brandon Watson’s primary job is to get on base.

Right now, that’s not happening.

Beginning a season at the major league level for the first time, Watson is struggling in the Nationals’ leadoff role. He came into last night’s game against the New York Mets at RFK Stadium hitting just .174 with a .208 on-base percentage.

Last night, his sixth-inning bunt single to load the bases snapped an 0-for-5 streak spanning his last two games. He went 1-for-4 to improve his batting average to .185 (5-for-27). Defensively, Watson could not track down two balls hit over his head in center field. Each play led to a Mets run.

“One thing he has to start doing for us [is] he has to start being productive, because he can’t keep going 0-for-3, 0-for-4, 0-for-4, getting on base 1-for-4, that type of thing at the top of the lineup,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. “When you look up, [Jose] Vidro, most of the time, is hitting with nobody on, or hitting with two outs coming off the pitcher as the leadoff man.”

Watson’s struggles are somewhat surprising because he had an excellent spring, hitting .308 and recording a team-high eight stolen bases in nine attempts. Last season, at Class AAA New Orleans, Watson was the second-best hitter in the entire Nationals minor league system, batting .324.

“You want to do well because you were brought here to produce,” Watson said. “If you’re not doing that, you kind of put pressure on yourself to do what you want to do. [Opposing pitchers] are not beating around the bush, they’re coming at me.”

Watson, 24, won the starting center fielder’s job this spring by beating out Ryan Church, who hit .287 with nine home runs and 42 RBI in 102 games last season.

The Nationals called up Watson in early August last season. He went 2-for-5 with a home run, double, one RBI, and two runs scored in his major league debut Aug. 9 in a win over Houston.

But Watson struggled thereafter, hitting 1-for-14 with two walks in his next four games, and was sent back to New Orleans. He is keenly aware that possibility still exists this year.

“Some things you can’t control,” Watson said. “I’m here now. Last year is history, so I just want to make sure I do what I have to do to stay up.”

Larkin in town

Jose Cardenal, a special assistant to general manager Jim Bowden, paraded through the Nationals clubhouse saying, “You saw it, he’s going to end his retirement.”

Barry Larkin, a 12-time National League All-Star shortstop, yesterday took pre-game infield practice. That was the first time Larkin, another one of Bowden’s special assistants, has participated in team drills. Larkin, who played 19 seasons with his hometown Cincinnati Reds, said not to read anything into him taking grounders at short.

“I’m just out there talking,” Larkin said. “I’m just out there working and talking and talking to the guys about whatever. I know some guys are going through some things and I’m just here to help. I just happened to be out there getting a little exercise.”

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To submit a question, go to the http://www.washingtontimes.com/sports>Sports Page

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