- The Washington Times - Monday, May 11, 2009

PHOENIX | Alex Cintron owns a World Series ring, has competed in the postseason and has been a starting shortstop playing at a high level, but he has never faced a challenge quite like this.

Stuck on the Washington Nationals’ bench behind starter Cristian Guzman, Cintron’s playing time has been sparse, limited mostly to pinch-hit appearances. The results haven’t been pretty: He entered Sunday’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks 0-for-16 with six strikeouts for the season.

The 30-year-old infielder has tried to remain upbeat throughout the slump.

“It’s tough, but mentally you’ve got to live with it,” he said. “I’m getting better. I’m feeling much better now than I was in the beginning. I was trying to do too much, trying to show what I can do. Now I’m relaxing more.”

Cintron got a rare chance to try to snap out of the funk Sunday when manager Manny Acta gave Guzman a day off. The fill-in shortstop didn’t exactly seize the opportunity, though, going 0-for-3 with two walks and committing an error. Guzman entered the game in the seventh, shifting Cintron to second base.

“I think Alex has the ability to do it,” Acta said before the game. “It’s just it hasn’t been happening to him. I think the fact he’s going to get more than one at-bat today could help him get into a little bit of a rhythm.”

Ready to close again?

Joel Hanrahan found himself in a familiar position late Saturday night: on the mound in the ninth inning, trying to protect a one-run lead. The Nationals’ recently demoted closer was forced back into the role after Kip Wells put three of five men on base in the ninth, and he responded by striking out Chad Tracy to end the game and notch his third save of the season.

Hanrahan, though, hasn’t been handed the closer’s job — at least not yet. Acta said he plans to continue going with a closer by committee, spreading out chances between Hanrahan, Wells, Joe Beimel and Julian Tavarez.

The Nationals still would like Hanrahan eventually to reassume the job on a full-time basis.

“He’s never been out of the picture,” Acta said. “Our thinking here is: Build his confidence and get him back over there — nothing less.”

Flores day-to-day

Catcher Jesus Flores was out of the lineup Sunday, still feeling the effects of a foul tip that struck him in the right shoulder Saturday.

The injury was diagnosed as a contusion — X-rays were negative — but Flores was still in some pain Sunday, especially when he tried to lift his right arm. Wil Nieves started behind the plate and could be there again Monday for the start of a three-game series in San Francisco.

Acta and the other members of the Nationals’ coaching staff were surprised when Flores insisted on staying in the game after taking the shot in the seventh. He remained out there into the ninth before Acta finally pulled him, fearing the Diamondbacks, trailing by a run, would try to run on the ailing catcher.

Extra bases

Jorge Sosa could be called upon sometime soon to help out the Nationals’ bullpen. The veteran right-hander remains at extended spring training, but his 50-game minor league suspension for amphetamines is set to end May 22, at which point he’s likely to be promoted to Class AAA Syracuse. …

Reliever Gary Glover was released from Syracuse’s roster after posting a 6.32 ERA in 10 games. Acting general manager Mike Rizzo said the organization needed to clear a roster spot for recently signed reliever Mike MacDougal.

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