You are currently viewing the printable version of this article, to return to the normal page, please click here.

Nats struggle at plate, again

- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 29, 2006

TORONTO -- It's been going on for more than two weeks now, and Frank Robinson has had enough.

After his Washington Nationals lost 6-1 to the Toronto Blue Jays last night, the manager closed the door of the visiting clubhouse for 10 minutes, gathered everyone around and declared it was time for some "soul-searching."

"Each individual is going to have to leave here tonight, go back to the hotel, take a look in the mirror and say: 'What can I do, starting tomorrow, to help this ballclub turn this thing around?'" Robinson said, still stinging from the Nationals' 12th loss in 15 games.

There's no shortage of places to look. Washington's offense is woefully inept. The pitching staff is issuing far too many walks, leading to big innings. And once things start to turn sour, everyone seems to roll over and play dead.

It's turning into a broken record, and Nationals players understand the magnitude of the situation.

"I definitely, 100 percent agree with what Frank said in the meeting," second baseman Jose Vidro said. "We need to look deep into ourselves and try to focus more on what we've been doing lately. Because it's not working right now."

The players aren't the only ones being held accountable. Robinson said he planned to look in the mirror himself last night and ask what more he can do to fix this problem. He had already admitted laying awake the previous night agonizing over his club and contemplating a possible lineup shakeup.

After watching his team extend its scoreless innings streak to 16 before finally breaking through in the eighth last night, there's nothing holding him back anymore. When the Nationals return to Rogers Centre tonight for the series finale, will they have a new-look lineup?

"Absolutely," Robinson said.

The manager didn't want to reveal any specifics last night, but earlier in the day he acknowledged he's considered dropping Alfonso Soriano from the top spot and moving him to the heart of the order, where he'd have more opportunities to drive in runs.

Soriano (9 for his last 63) isn't exactly picking up many RBI these days. But something drastic has to be done, so Robinson may move Soriano down and -- in a surprising move -- make Vidro his new leadoff man. Hardly quick, the veteran hitter has never done it, but his .419 on-base percentage is second only to Nick Johnson's on the team, and his propensity for hitting singles makes him an unconventional candidate.

Vidro hadn't been informed of the possibility yet last night, but he said he'd support whatever changes Robinson makes. (Vidro's only request is to serve as designated hitter for the second-straight night after feeling the effects of Toronto's artificial turf on Tuesday.)

"We've got to try something out, because it's not working what we're doing right now," he said. "Hopefully, a lineup change will help."

Washington's offense didn't come close to getting the job done against lefty Ted Lilly (8-7) or the Blue Jays bullpen. The Nationals had chances but squandered all of them until it was too late.

Ryan Zimmerman struck out looking at an 0-2 curveball with two on and two out in the first, setting the tone for the game. Brian Schneider botched a golden opportunity in the fifth, when he followed a leadoff double with a popped-up sacrifice bunt attempt. One inning later, Marlon Byrd killed a two-on, two-out rally by failing to check his swing on Lilly's last pitch of the night -- a high fastball at his eyelids -- and punctuated his frustration by slamming his bat to the ground.

Those little mistakes are killing the Nationals (33-46).

"If I get the bunt down and we get a base hit, then maybe it's 2-0 and it changes the whole complex of the game," Schneider said. "That's the kind of thing we need to do, no doubt about it."

The lack of offense sealed the fate of Washington rookie right-hander Shawn Hill, a native of suburban Toronto who had about 80 friends and family members in the stands for his first major-league game in his home nation.

Hill gave the locals plenty to cheer about early on, cruising through the game's first four innings. But the rookie struggled in the fifth, allowing four runs to score. Afterward, he admitted feeling some stiffness in his surgically repaired right elbow during that inning, which proved to be his last on the mound.

"I have stretches where I feel fine, I have stretches where it doesn't feel that good," said Hill (1-3). "It's nothing to worry about. I've just got to fight through it."

Much like the Nationals need to fight through this woeful stretch of games and turn around what's devolving into a lost season.

"This is a time we definitely need to be doing that, because the way we're playing, we've got to find a way," Vidro said. "And maybe outside the stadium is where we need to think about it. Hopefully, we can bring it here the next day."