- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 14, 2005

DENVER — Brad Wilkerson says he can play. Frank Robinson says Wilkerson hasn’t conveyed that message to him and as such sat his regular center fielder for the second straight game last night against the player’s wishes.

In Wilkerson’s stead, Robinson started rookie Brandon Watson in left field while keeping the struggling Preston Wilson in center field. All the while, Ryan Church sits on the bench steaming over his own lack of playing time.

Welcome to the soap opera that is the Washington Nationals’ muddled outfield.

There are several key figures in this drama, but Wilkerson appears to be front and center. Hampered all season by a variety of injuries, he arrived in Denver late Thursday complaining of pain in his left shoulder. Taking that into consideration, Robinson gave him Friday night’s game off — though Wilkerson never asked for it and later said he could have played.

Just as he insisted before last night’s game against the Colorado Rockies.

“They didn’t ask me yesterday. They didn’t even know,” Wilkerson said. “But today they asked me, and I said I’m the same as yesterday. I’m ready to go. If I felt like I’m not ready to go, I’d go tell them.”

That wasn’t convincing enough for Robinson, who after getting an update on Wilkerson’s condition via bench coach Eddie Rodriguez decided to sit him in favor of Watson.

“He told the trainers that he was sorer than usual,” Robinson said. “So I took it upon myself to give him a day off. We have the extra outfielders, so I figured, hey, why not? Give him a day off. … I’m not upset with him. We just have the extra outfielders here, and they’re capable of playing.”

It’s a dilemma Robinson is likely to face the rest of the season. There are five outfielders on Washington’s roster with a reasonable claim to play every day (Wilkerson, Wilson, Watson, Church and Jose Guillen). Only three can play at a time, and for now, Guillen and Wilson (despite his .216 average with the Nationals) are getting two of the spots.

Of Wilson, Robinson said, “You’re going to get a guy, and then in less than a month you’re going to give up on him?”

On the overall outfield picture, he added, “It’s a delicate situation, and we handle it that way. Whichever way I go, I’m going to be the bad guy and I’m going to hurt somebody’s feelings. This is why I get paid the big bucks: to make those decisions and live with them.”

Even if Wilkerson doesn’t seem to agree.

“We’re in a spot where we have to put the best team out there,” he said. “Whether he thinks it’s another person or not, that’s the bottom line. We’re trying to win a division or a wild card.”

Larkin chips in

Barry Larkin has been on the field and in a Nationals uniform before each of the last two games. However, he’s not out there once the games begin, nor does he have any plans to be.

Larkin, a special assistant to general manager Jim Bowden, said he seriously considered coming out of retirement to play shortstop for the Nationals but that obligations to his family and his business ultimately kept him on the outside looking in.

“I very seriously considered it,” Larkin said. “I worked out. I got my hands nice and calloused. I was taking ground balls. I was taking BP. I was running the bases. I got myself in a position where if I decided to play, I would have been ready.”

Larkin, 41, instead chose family over baseball. He recently got to celebrate his daughter’s birthday in person for the first time in her life; he’s also coaching his son’s basketball team. He also wanted to stay close to the sports complex he opened recently in Orlando, Fla.

So instead, Larkin joined the Nationals in Colorado this weekend to provide instruction to shortstop Cristian Guzman and others. He will follow the team to Philadelphia through Thursday before returning to Florida next weekend to see his son’s first preseason football game.

He spent considerable time with the struggling Guzman yesterday, watching video and offering pointers.

“I’m working with Guzy. I’m working with anybody who wants to work with me,” he said. “I’m just here to help out however I can.”

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