- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 24, 2005

NEW YORK — Following his team’s dramatic first home series at RFK Stadium, Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson warned fans not to expect that kind of play every day.

“We’re going to look like an amateur team out there once in a while,” Robinson said one week ago, with his club riding a five-game winning streak and sitting pretty atop the National League East at 8-4.

Though the remarks were made somewhat in jest, Robinson knew what he was talking about. Over the course of a 162-game season, things are going to get ugly on occasion. And sure enough, they did for the Nationals yesterday during an uninspired 10-5 loss to the New York Mets before an announced crowd of 44,058 at Shea Stadium.

Suddenly, the club that was on cloud nine one week ago is mired in a three-game losing streak, having seen its record fall to 9-9 — the first time it hasn’t been above .500 in 11 days.

“This club is not as bad as we look right now in these last couple ballgames,” Robinson said. “And we’re maybe not as good as we looked earlier in the season. But it’s a good ballclub, I know that. We’re going to be all right.”

There were precious few things that went right for Washington on another cold, dreary day at Shea.

• Starting pitcher Tomo Ohka suffered through his third straight rough outing and afterward confirmed Robinson’s suspicions that he’s not 100 percent healthy.

• A reconfigured lineup that boasted a 4-5-6 configuration of Nick Johnson, Carlos Baerga and Brian Schneider was shut down by a Mets pitcher (Jae Seo) who posted an 8.22 ERA in his first three starts … at Class AAA Norfolk.

• And a usually flawless team in the field looked like it had practically given up during a calamitous fifth inning in which New York put nine straight batters on base, scored six runs and opened a 10-0 lead.

“It seemed like we kind of gave this game away,” center fielder Brad Wilkerson said. “We didn’t swing the bats well, didn’t play good defense and we certainly didn’t pitch well.”

Chief culprit on the pitching front was Ohka (1-3), who was shelled for four runs and six hits in three-plus innings and needed 75 pitches just to make it that far. With a 5.85 ERA and 36 baserunners allowed in 20 total innings, the Japanese right-hander is bearing no resemblance to the man who boasted a career 3.92 ERA when the season began.

Ohka’s velocity is down, his once-impeccable control is no more and his manager believes he is injured.

“It has to be something wrong with him,” Robinson said. “I’ve seen this kid for three years now, and even when he wasn’t pitching well he wasn’t coming close to the way he’s pitching right now. … I’ve asked him, and he says he’s all right. But my instincts tell me better. I’d be willing to stake a little bit of my reputation in this game that he is hurt.”

Ohka, who still bears a huge scar on the right forearm that was broken last summer by a Carlos Beltran line drive, acknowledged yesterday that he is not fully healthy. He would not, however, divulge where he is hurting and insisted he’s not concerned about it.

“It’s not a big deal. I’m OK,” said Ohka, whose next scheduled start (Thursday) falls on an off-day. “My mechanics are a little bit off, so I couldn’t throw strikes. That’s frustrating.”

Team doctor Bruce Thomas examined Ohka yesterday after he pitched and found no physical ailments.

For all his struggles, Ohka still left yesterday’s game with the Nationals trailing only 4-0. Things didn’t get really out of hand until the fifth inning, when reliever Joe Horgan allowed the first nine Mets he faced to reach base, with six of them ultimately scoring.

It wasn’t entirely Horgan’s fault. Washington’s defense suffered through a stretch that would have been comical had it not been so painful to watch. Second baseman Jose Vidro lost a pop-up in the wind, turning it into a run-scoring double. Baerga, making his first start at third base, allowed a groundball to go right through his legs and later traded a sure out at first in exchange for keeping what would have been New York’s 11th run on third. And rookie Tony Blanco, making his first start in left field, slipped on the wet grass trying to catch a line drive that also turned into a run-scoring double.

“Stuff like that’s going to happen,” Baerga said. “This is a long year. This is maybe the first game that we’ve played bad defense. The weather, the conditions … there were a lot of factors. But we don’t have any excuses.”

The Nationals weren’t making any excuses for their feeble production at the plate against emergency starter Seo, who was called up from Norfolk after scheduled starter Kaz Ishii went on the disabled list with a strained lateral muscle.

Seo (1-0) opened with five scoreless innings, then finally gave up a run in the sixth on singles by Vidro, Johnson and Baerga. Washington did manage to add four runs late off the Mets bullpen, but that couldn’t overshadow the club’s season-long struggle to produce offense early in ballgames.

Despite his club’s recent woes, not to mention its lackluster showing yesterday, Robinson is trying to stay positive.

“What we can’t do is panic right now, or write this team off, or get down on each other or ourselves,” he said. “We’ve only played [18] ballgames. That’s not even a small fraction of this season. There’s a lot of games to be played.”

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