- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 13, 2005

DENVER — When the Washington Nationals were winning, there weren’t a lot of complaints coming out of the clubhouse about playing time. Everyone seemed to get a fair share of at-bats, and if someone didn’t, he didn’t make a big deal out of it.

As the losses have mounted, though, so has the frustration level, particularly among members of the crowded outfield corps.

Brad Wilkerson, in particular, was upset he was not in manager Frank Robinson’s starting lineup last night against the Colorado Rockies. Robinson said he gave Wilkerson the night off to rest his ailing body — he has dealt with a smorgasbord of injuries all season.

“He’s banged up,” Robinson said. “He’s hurting a little bit.”

Wilkerson, though, said he came to Coors Field yesterday ready to play.

“I feel fine,” he said. “I didn’t ask for a day off.”

Wilkerson isn’t the only one upset about a lack of playing time. Fellow outfielder Ryan Church, who didn’t see any action during the last three games in Houston and was out of the lineup again last night, was at a loss for words.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” said the visibly upset Church, a one-time National League rookie of the year candidate who has just 27 at-bats over Washington’s last 16 games.

Robinson fielded a starting outfield (from right to left) last night of Jose Guillen, Preston Wilson and Brandon Watson. Guillen’s presence in the lineup isn’t questioned. Wilson, though, has been struggling since joining the Nationals last month. He entered last night’s game with a .226 average, four homers and 11 RBI in 24 games, plus 33 strikeouts in 84 at-bats.

Robinson gave Wilson the nod in center field last night in part because of his track record at Coors Field, where he hit .281 with 10 homers and 34 RBI earlier this season while playing for the Rockies.

And since Watson’s promotion from Class AAA New Orleans earlier this week, Robinson has felt the need to give the newcomer as many at-bats as possible to see whether he can spark the Nationals’ stagnant offense.

All of which comes at the expense of players like Church and Wilkerson. The latter likely will return to the lineup tonight, Robinson said.

“One day off is not going to hurt him,” he said. “Earlier in the year, yeah, let him play [when he says he’s not hurt]. But right now I don’t pay attention to it.”

Castilla plugs along

Perhaps no member of the Nationals is trying to play through more pain than third baseman Vinny Castilla, who has had tendinitis in his left knee most of the season yet has taken only a handful of days off.

Castilla has looked particularly hobbled in recent days, whether in the batter’s box, on the bases or in the field.

“When it hurts a lot, it affects me big time,” he said yesterday. “I can’t put my weight down [on my left leg]. I can’t drive the ball anymore like I did.”

Despite the way he limps around the field, Castilla has managed to maintain a fairly high level of play defensively. Robinson said he could think of only one play in the last few weeks when he thought Castilla’s bad knee prevented him from fielding a ball.

“It bothers him all the time, but he makes the plays,” Robinson said. “That’s the reason he’s still out there, really.”

Castilla, who received a warm welcome from fans in Colorado, where he played most of his career, said he is determined not to succumb to his injury.

“Surgery is not an option. There’s not a guarantee it’s going to heal,” he said. “But I can play through it, and I want to.”

Extra bases

Shortstop Cristian Guzman returned to the lineup after missing two games with an abscess in one of his lower right molars. Team doctors have been able to ease the pain with medication, but he eventually will need a root canal. …

The Nationals’ eight home runs during their just-completed series in Houston were the most the franchise has hit in three consecutive games since June 28-30, 2004. Washington entered last night’s game having hit 12 homers in August, just one shy of its July total.

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