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Nats’ Armas fails to deliver

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Tony Armas Jr. has spent his entire major league career with the Washington Nationals franchise. Since he was acquired from the Boston Red Sox for a guy named Pedro Martinez in 1997, the right-hander has been counted on to blossom into an impact pitcher.

Those days appear to be at an end. Armas is no longer the promising young pitcher with the potential to carry a team. He's become something of a lost cause, an arm to throw out there every fifth day but hardly the kind of pitcher a team can count on.

Nationals manager Frank Robinson's feelings on the matter were clear even before Armas lasted just 31/3 innings last night in a 10-6 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies.

"Sometimes you're with a ... major-league ballclub for 'X' number of years and you keep waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting," Robinson said yesterday afternoon. "And sooner or later, they say it's time to go in another direction. ... You can't always wait for someone to reach their potential and develop into what you think they're capable of doing."

Robinson made sure to qualify that he wasn't talking specifically about Armas (8-10) but about any player in such a situation. But there's little doubt that the franchise has no real plans for the underperforming 28-year-old beyond next month.

A quick glance at his numbers this season explain why.

In early June, Armas looked like the Nationals' most reliable starter. On June 9, his record was 6-3 with a 3.48 ERA. In his last 11 starts, he is 2-7 with a 7.95 ERA.

"I've been waiting two years for this, to feel the way I'm feeling right now, and things are not going my way," said Armas, who battled shoulder injuries in 2004 and 2005. "It's tough. Mentally, it gets you. But I'm the only one who can fix this. No one else can do it."

He might want to start with keeping his pitch count down. Five nights after going just 12/3 innings against the Florida Marlins, he was yanked by Robinson after recording just one out in the fourth.

At that point, the Phillies had already scored five runs on eight hits and racked up Armas' pitch count to 82.

"It was not the performance we were counting on him to give us," Robinson said.

In some ways, that was actually an improvement for Washington (55-76), which had seen its starting pitcher fail to make it out of the third inning in five of the previous eight games. At least Armas made it into the fourth.

The Nationals, of course, were looking for more than that. So too was Armas, who if nothing else is trying to put together a solid finish to an otherwise frustrating season.

"It would be good if he did," Robinson said. "But one month in September doesn't make up for five months that you have not put it together."

Armas' troubles last night began right from the start, when he opened by giving up back-to-back singles to Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino. A two-out, two-run single by Pat Burrell prolonged the rally, and by the time Armas finally retreated to the dugout, he already had thrown 36 pitches and spoiled any remote possibility of lasting into the sixth or beyond.

The final straw came in the fourth, when Mike Lieberthal hit a two-run homer on a hanging 0-1 slider, Abraham Nunez singled up the middle and Jimmy Rollins hit an RBI double to right. Robinson strolled to the mound and took the ball from Armas, who retreated to the dugout amid a smattering of boos from the RFK Stadium crowd of 25,735.

Armas' teammates had tried to keep things close. Alfonso Soriano hit his 42nd homer of the season in the third, a solo shot that landed in the mezzanine high above the left-center field wall.

Two innings later, Ryan Zimmerman (4-for-5, three RBI) lined a two-run triple to left-center, scoring pinch-hitter Bernie Castro and Soriano to cut the lead to 5-3 and keep some hope alive.

But the resurgent Phillies, who entered only a game back in the National League wild-card race, opened the floodgates against reliever Kevin Gryboski in the sixth. Gryboski surrendered three singles (with one run scoring on first baseman Nick Johnson's 13th error of the year) and then gave up a three-run homer to Ryan Howard.

Howard's league-leading 48th homer of the season put the game out of reach and ensured yet another disappointing loss in yet another disappointing season for Armas.

"It's just a matter putting games together consistently in a row," catcher Brian Schneider said. "That's the thing. He'll come out and throw real well and then something like this tonight."

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