- The Washington Times - Friday, May 5, 2006

The only thing missing is a shovel.

The Washington Nationals keep digging themselves into huge, early holes. Last night, the chasm was too big and they fell a half-game behind Florida.

With an 11-3 loss to the Marlins, the Nationals (9-20) have crashed to a season-high 11 games below .500 and have lost 10 of their past 12 games. The loss dropped the Nationals record at RFK this season to 1-9.

“I’m embarrassed for this team because the fans are coming out here and being very supportive and we’re not giving them what they deserve, not even close,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. “I’m surprised they’re not throwing things at us. We deserve whatever they might do or say. I’m amazed that they are still coming out here. I wouldn’t pay to see us.”

Once again, Livan Hernandez’s early-inning problems surfaced. Last season’s staff ace put the Nationals in a 5-0 hole after two innings. In seven starts this season, Hernandez has been battered for 15 first-inning runs to a first-inning ERA of 19.29.

He gave up seven runs on six hits and four walks in five innings last night.

As the disastrous first inning was under way, new Nationals ownership group member Mark Lerner and new club president Stan Kasten were seen circulating through RFK Stadium’s press box. The new regime attended last night’s game while the Marlins were busy sweeping the new owners’ $440 million acquisition. The Nationals are still two percentage points ahead of the Marlins (8-18), but a half-game further behind the National League East-leading New York Mets.

Marlins’ star Miguel Cabrera was 3-for-3 with two doubles, two walks, a single, and five RBI.

“It’s not embarrassing,” outfielder Marlon Byrd said. “It’s more sad than embarrassing, because we know we’re better than that.”

Hernandez, who underwent offseason knee surgery, continues to be an enigma this season. What is wrong with one of the league’s ultimate workhorses? Despite pitching on a bum leg last season, Hernandez led the Nationals in wins, starts, and innings and went 15-10 with a 3.98 ERA in a league-high 2461/3 innings.

Besides the first inning, Hernandez has allowed 16 earned runs in the other 371/3 innings he’s pitched this season for a 3.86 ERA.

“I know the first innings are killing me this year,” said Hernandez (1-4, 6.29 ERA). “When I don’t pitch good, people start to talk and talk. Today the team lost because I pitched bad.”

Hernandez walked the first two batters he faced — rookie shortstop Hanley Ramirez and second baseman Dan Uggla. That immediately brought Robinson out to the mound to check on his starting pitcher.

The next batter, Cabrera, doubled into the left-field corner to give the Marlins a 2-0 lead. Cabrera later scored in the first on Wes Helms’ groundout to shortstop.

After Wednesday’s game in which the Marlins jumped out to a 5-0 lead after three innings, Florida put another five-spot on the Nationals within two innings last night. Uggla tripled off the center-field wall — a ball Nationals center fielder Marlon Byrd badly misread — and drove in Ramirez, who walked to open the inning. Cabrera then drove in his third run of the game with a single to right field that scored Uggla.

Marlins pitcher Josh Johnson became the latest unheralded rookie to baffle the Nationals’ hitters. Johnson, who made just the second start of his career, allowed two runs over five innings on only one hit with three walks.

The Nationals finished with just five hits.

“The offense stinks,” Robinson said

The Nationals did not collect their second hit of the game until Johnson had left the game and when outfielder Jose Guillen doubled off the center-field wall to lead off the seventh inning.

Afterward, a visibly upset Robinson offered in his words a threat to his struggling team.

“I guarantee you, starting tomorrow, we will play better and I will manage better,” he said.

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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