- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Bob Watson, Major League Baseball’s vice president of on-field operations, inspected RFK Stadium yesterday and proclaimed the field was playable.

?This morning I inspected the field after the transition [from soccer] to try and get it back to baseball, and since it rained on the weekend, I wanted to make sure it was up to major league standards,? Watson said.

?The conclusion is there is a game tonight. We’ll see what happens. It’s a long season, and when you’ve got the two schedules overlapping the way they do, there’s going to be challenges, but today is fine.?

The pitcher’s mound has a been an ongoing problem since the home opener, when Nationals starter Livan Hernandez complained about the landing area and a deep rut next to the rubber.

The condition of the mound was so bad during the club’s first homestand last week that the Nationals were forced to bring in Doug Lopas, the chief groundskeeper from their Viera, Fla., spring training facility.

The mound claimed its first victim last Tuesday when Nationals reliever T.J. Tucker suffered a Grade2 right groin strain in the sixth inning against Florida. He said his foot got stuck in some mud. He is out at least six to eight weeks.

?I haven’t had an opportunity to talk to the ground crew,? Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. ?Hopefully, they have really worked on the mound, and that would be the most important thing as far as I’m concerned. There’s still some work that needs to be tweaked and done on the infield and around home plate, but the mound is the most important thing, and hopefully they did something with it.?

D.C. United played its second home match of the season Saturday, and RFK’s grounds crew had less than two days to transform the field back to a diamond. Soccer lines were visible on the grass last night.

When the field is converted for soccer, the mound is lowered below the surface by a hydraulic lift. RFK’s left-field stands also are moved in the conversion, each time requiring a chunk of left field to be dug out and later re-sodded for baseball.

In a steady rain during Thursday’s afternoon game against the Atlanta Braves, the infield became waterlogged. By the seventh inning there were puddles of water and mud on the basepaths and around home plate.

With the Nationals leading 1-0, shortstop Cristian Guzman committed a costly throwing error in the ninth inning after he slid down to one knee to field a Raul Mondesi grounder. He came up throwing with a handful of mud and water and watched his potential game-ending throw skip past first baseman Nick Johnson as the Braves scored the winning runs.

Revolving bullpen

The bullpen remained in a state of flux after the Nationals called up right-hander Jon Rauch and sent down struggling left-hander Joe Horgan.

In the last two weeks, the Nationals have recalled three relievers — Gary Majewski, Hector Carrasco and Rauch — from Class AAA New Orleans. Recent injuries and short outings by starters have stretched the bullpen thin.

Only closer Chad Cordero, setup man Luis Ayala and southpaw Joey Eischen remain from the Opening Day bullpen. The Nationals are carrying 11 pitchers.

?We need innings. We all know that,? general manager Jim Bowden said. ?We’ve seen four relievers go and pitch three straight days. We’ve seen three guys pitch four out of five days. You can’t do that. We’re probably going to have to go to 12 pitchers soon. We’ll see how the starters do the next few days. If they don’t pick it up, we’re going to have to go to 12 because we are not going to hurt our pitchers.?

What’s up with Ohka?

Starter Tomo Ohka met with Robinson and Bowden yesterday to discuss whether a physical problem has contributed to his poor performances. The right-hander has given up 13 earned runs, 21 hits and 15 walks in 20 innings this season.

Ohka will skip his next turn in the rotation as the club tried to determine what is wrong.

?He doesn’t look right, but he swears that he’s not [injured],? Bowden said.

Mateo on the mend

Nationals utility player Henry Mateo, who missed all of spring training and was placed on the 15-day disabled list March 16 with right shoulder tendinitis, is getting closer to becoming available.

?Mateo will be starting a rehabilitation assignment soon, and we hope he will be available around May 15,? Bowden said.

Mateo can play six positions and offers speed on the basepaths, an element the Nationals lack.

Robinson to testify

Frank Robinson, who turns 70 in August, will headline a Senate committee hearing tomorrow on Americans who work past retirement age.

Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, the panel’s ranking Democrat, told the Associated Press he called the hearing to look into ways to ensure that older Americans can keep working if they choose.

?Frank is a great example of what years of experience on the job can give you — a promising baseball team in their inaugural season,? said Kohl, who also owns the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks. ?Robinson has breathed new life into Washington baseball, and he exemplifies the value that older workers bring to the field.?

Extra bases

First baseman Nick Johnson extended his career-high 15-game hitting streak ? the longest in the majors this season ? with a two-out ninth-inning single. …

Buck Martinez, who is a Baltimore Orioles announcer, was ESPN’s color analyst for last night’s game.

Staff writer Thom Loverro contributed to this article.

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