- The Washington Times - Monday, April 18, 2005

Less than 12 hours after pinch-hitting for Cristian Guzman in the seventh inning of Saturday’s game, Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson reinstated the slumping shortstop to the No. 2 spot in the starting lineup yesterday.

It was the first time Guzman, who entered the game with a .122 average, hit behind leadoff man Brad Wilkerson in eight games. Robinson, though, said he wanted to try to restore Guzman’s confidence, especially after he was benched in favor of pinch-hitter Carlos Baerga on Saturday night.

“When a player’s struggling, his psyche is very touchy,” Robinson said. “You try to stay with him as long as you can. Last night was a spot where I just felt like I had to do it. No one wants to be pinch-hit for. It just had to be done. Those are the decisions that have to be made.”

Guzman, who declined to speak to reporters both before and after yesterday’s game, went 0-for-3, lowering his average to .114. He did, however, draw a bases-loaded walk to help extend the Nationals’ seven-run seventh inning. He also did a nice job moving Wilkerson from second to third base on a fourth-inning groundout.

“He’s still trying to find his way,” Robinson said. “He had a good at-bat when he walked. It looks like each day, a little bit, he’s coming around.”

Screech debuts

The Nationals unveiled their mascot, Screech, before the game. The baby eagle emerged from a giant egg in center field as the theme from “2001: A Space Odyssey” blared over the RFK Stadium speakers.

According to Barbra Silva, the Nationals’ director of community relations, the club had known for a while what the mascot would be. Given the franchise’s rebirth in the District, it made sense to make the bird a baby.

Glenda Gutierrez, a fourth grader at Powell Elementary School in Northwest who won a drawing contest to guess what the mascot would look like, introduced Screech to the crowd. She also won tickets to the game for all of her classmates.

Wilkerson back to first?

Frank Robinson hinted at a future lineup that could have outfielder Wilkerson back at first base.

Last season, Wilkerson played four positions for the Montreal Expos, including 78 games at first base.

Robinson is trying to find playing time for promising outfielder Terrmel Sledge, who hit the Nationals’ first home run Opening Day in Philadelphia, and to give first baseman Nick Johnson a day off.

With an outfield that includes Wilkerson, center fielder Ryan Church and slugger Jose Guillen, Robinson has had trouble finding a spot in the lineup for Sledge. Sledge produced a solid rookie season last year when he hit .269 with 15 home runs and 62 RBI in 133 games.

“I had visions in spring training, and I think it will come about, is maybe rotate Wilkerson sometimes to first base, give Johnson the day off and put Sledge in the lineup,” Robinson said. “It will happen some, but right now Johnson is starting to swing the bat well. Sledge is caught in a very difficult situation. It’s not his fault he’s not playing. He should be playing off of what he did last year.”

Wilkerson had said in spring training he would prefer to stay at one position. Wilkerson, who has played left and center field already this season, is open to the move, provided he knows beforehand.

“I would hope they give me a day’s notice so I can take some grounders,” Wilkerson said. “I don’t want to go over there and make a big error in a game that costs us a game. I haven’t taken ground balls once all spring. If they give me a heads up, I’ll be fine. If they don’t, it’ll be tough.”

Mound improves

The Nationals were much more pleased with the state of the pitching mound Saturday and yesterday after complaining about the clay being too soft for Thursday’s home opener. Robinson disputed the complaints of some Diamondbacks players about the quality of the infield. “I think the field itself is in darn good shape,” he said.

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