- The Washington Times - Friday, August 12, 2005

HOUSTON [-] Preston Wilson tried to be as diplomatic as possible about being pinch-hit for Wednesday night, but the slumping Washington Nationals outfielder couldn’t entirely mask his frustration.

“Nobody wants to be pinch-hit for,” he said yesterday. “But the decision had to be made, and I don’t have any say.”

With the Nationals trailing the Houston Astros 7-6 with two outs in the ninth inning, manager Frank Robinson sent up Jose Guillen to bat for Wilson, who was hitless in his last 10 at-bats. Making his first plate appearance since Friday, the ailing Guillen struck out on four pitches against closer Brad Lidge, stranding the tying run on third base.

Robinson later called the decision “a no-brainer” and reiterated that belief before last night’s game at Minute Maid Park. He put Wilson back in the lineup batting seventh against Houston left-hander Andy Pettitte but said he can’t go out of his way to try to appease Wilson given the way he’s been playing.

“I don’t have to appease him during the course of a game,” Robinson said. “I have to do whatever gives us the best chance to win a game.”

For a couple of weeks now, that has meant having Wilson shuffle around the outfield. Touted as a superior center fielder when he arrived July 13, he has been moved to the corners because of his shaky play. Club sources said that has been a particular gripe of Wilson’s, and he has made it known in recent days.

At the plate, Wilson entered last night’s game batting .225 with 30 strikeouts in 80 at-bats. He spent nearly 45 minutes watching video of himself yesterday. Hitting coach Tom McCraw has been working with him on shortening his swing so he can better turn on inside pitches.

Asked if he thought the lengthy study session would pay dividends, Wilson said, “I don’t know. I guess we’ll see.”

Wilson redeemed himself somewhat last night with a two-run homer in the seventh inning of the Nationals’ 6-3 loss to the Astros.

With both Wilson and Guillen in the lineup in the series finale, rookie Brandon Watson found himself on the bench. Robinson said he didn’t want to throw the 23-year-old into the fire against a pitcher like Pettitte.

Different look

Robinson tried a different lineup last night. With Watson given his first game of the series off, shortstop Jamey Carroll (subbing for an ailing Cristian Guzman) batted leadoff.

Brad Wilkerson hit third for only the third time this year, ahead of Guillen, Vinny Castilla and Nick Johnson, who was dropped to sixth against Pettitte.

Catcher Gary Bennett also got a start in place of Brian Schneider, who is not being rushed back from bursitis in his right shoulder.

“Just move people around to try to get something going,” Robinson said.

Extra bases

Livan Hernandez’s three-hit game Wednesday night was actually the seventh of the pitcher’s career. Hernandez recorded four hits Aug.[ThSp]11, 2001, while playing for the San Francisco Giants. His home run down the left-field line Wednesday was his second of the season and the seventh of his career. That ties him with the Cubs’ Kerry Wood for second place among active major league pitchers. Atlanta’s Mike Hampton has 15 homers. [EnLeader]

Washington entered last night’s game in third place for the first time since June 3, a span of 58 games. The Nationals also found themselves tied for third place in the National League wild-card race, only one game ahead of the fifth-place Mets. That’s a cause of concern for Robinson. “You can’t let two or three teams get in front of you with a gap,” he said. “We’re going to have to try to keep pace here.”

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