- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 23, 2005

NEW YORK — Frank Robinson knew before this season ever started that his Washington Nationals lineup would on occasion struggle to put anything together.

But even the sage old manager would have been hard-pressed to predict it would happen this many times, this early.

The numbers don’t lie. Last night, for the sixth time in 17 games, the Nationals were held to two runs or less, putting forth a feeble effort against the New York Mets’ Tom Glavine in a 3-1 loss before 28,488 frozen fans at Shea Stadium.

It’s becoming a disturbing trend. Washington has scored a total of four runs in its last three games, collecting a total of 15 hits and losing its brief grip on first place in the National League East. Losers of four out of five, the Nationals (9-8) have fallen a game behind the Florida Marlins and left their manager beside himself trying to solve his club’s offensive woes.

“In baseball terminology, we’re not having good at-bats, for one reason or another,” Robinson said. “We’re swinging at pitchers’ pitches and we’re not swinging at our pitch. We don’t work the count. We do nothing to try to get on, except swing the bat. That’s what it all adds up to.”



In their defense, the Nationals have been shut down by some of the National League’s best arms. Glavine, who surrendered two hits in seven innings last night, was only the latest starter to dominate Washington, joining the likes of Dontrelle Willis, Josh Beckett, Mike Hampton and John Smoltz.

So is the Nationals’ offense really that deficient, or has it simply been a victim of superb work by opposing pitchers?

“You can’t judge Glavine by what he did tonight against us, because everybody walked out there basically doing the same thing,” Robinson said. “We don’t seem to want to compete until it comes to about the sixth or seventh inning of ballgames, no matter who’s out there on the mound. And the way we approached Glavine tonight, we wouldn’t have done anything anyways.”

Poor approach or not, it was hard to discredit the job Glavine (1-2) did on a bitterly cold, windy and wet night that began with temperatures in the high 40s and ended with a heavy mist descending on the stadium.

Glavine, whose 28 career wins against the Nationals/Expos are his most against any franchise, put himself in a bit of trouble in the first, loading the bases with two outs. But Vinny Castilla killed the rally by grounding into a force out, and the crafty left-hander cruised from that point on.

Washington didn’t get another hit until the sixth, when Cristian Guzman briefly emerged from his season-long slump to belt a 2-1 pitch into the left-field bleachers 405 feet away for his first home run.

The Nationals threatened only once more, putting men on second and third with no outs in the eighth. But Mets reliever Roberto Hernandez got Guzman to ground out meekly to the catcher, struck out Jose Vidro and induced an inning-ending pop out from Jose Guillen.

“Second and third, and we didn’t move anybody [up]?” Robinson said in disgust. “That’s hard to take.”

Braden Looper earned his second save with a scoreless ninth, but afterward, the Nationals were kicking themselves for not making the most of their eighth-inning rally.

“We swung at a lot of bad pitches,” Vidro said. “That’s what happened in that inning. They didn’t give anything to us, and we basically went up there and swung at everything they threw.”

Unlike Glavine, Nationals starter Esteban Loaiza labored from the moment he took the mound. He walked two men in the first, then gave up another walk and a single to Glavine in the second. Somehow, the right-hander managed to escape both innings unscathed.

By the third, all the extra pitches finally caught up to him. Kaz Matsui led off with a single, then moved to third on Carlos Beltran’s double down the right-field line. Robinson could have chosen to play his infield in, assuming a low-scoring game, but the Nationals manager kept everyone at normal depth.

It might have cost him two runs, because Mike Piazza and Cliff Floyd each hit into run-scoring ground outs, putting the Mets ahead 2-0. The deficit would have been even greater if not for Washington left fielder J.J. Davis’ pinpoint throw to the plate nailing Doug Mientkiewicz to end the inning.

Nevertheless, Loaiza (0-1) was already gassed. His pitch count stood at 68 through three innings, 98 through four (when he issued his fourth and fifth walks of the night).

By the time Floyd led off the fifth with a towering homer to right, Loaiza might as well have been running on fumes. He departed at the end of the inning, having surrendered six hits and five walks while throwing a whopping 113 pitches (only 69 strikes).

“That’s the first time I’ve pitched in really cold weather,” Loaiza said. “I was having a difficult time getting my hand warm. Sometimes I couldn’t feel the ball real good. Sometimes I could, but it went away. I gave it my best.”

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