- The Washington Times - Monday, August 29, 2005

ATLANTA — The Washington Nationals’ lack of hitting is driving manager Frank Robinson crazy.

Before last night’s game against the National League East-leading Atlanta Braves was rained out, Robinson was lying on a leather couch in the visiting manager’s office at Turner Field acting as if he were at a psychiatrist’s office explaining why he thought he was going nuts.

“I see this inning after inning after inning of no hitting, good pitching, but no hitting,” Robinson said as a joke. “It seems like I’ve seen it someplace before in real life.”

Only the Nationals’ venerable 69-year-old manager could make light of the team’s stunning lack of offense. Washington is mired in a 21-inning scoreless streak. The last time it scored was in the fifth inning of Friday’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Somehow, Washington (67-63) still is in contention in the NL wild-card race. But if the offense doesn’t come alive soon, the playoff run will end with a few weeks to spare. The Nationals are just 21/2 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies for the wild card despite hitting .234 since the All-Star break.

Washington is the NL’s worst hitting team at .251. The club ranks last in the NL in runs, hits, total bases, RBI and slugging percentage.

Hitting coach Tom McCraw, a former Washington Senator in his 30th year as a coach or instructor, is understandably frustrated.

“I get more embarrassed than the hitters do,” McCraw said. “That’s the field I’m in. That’s where my responsibilities lie, to get a guy unwound or get a young guy to develop. That’s what it’s all about.”

Robinson reiterated before last night’s rainout that if McCraw is made the fall guy, it’s not coming from his office.

“Sooner or later you have to look at the personnel,” Robinson said. “The players need to shoulder some of the responsibility.”

Third baseman Vinny Castilla said there’s plenty of blame to go around.

“It’s not one guy, it’s the whole team,” he said.

That’s what makes McCraw’s job so much tougher. Outfielder Brad Wilkerson is hitting .248, and Castilla is batting .247, well under his career .280 average. Shortstop Cristian Guzman is hitting .196, well below his .266 career average. Second baseman Jose Vidro, who missed two months of the season with a torn left ankle tendon, is batting .262, not even close to his .304 average.

McCraw’s goal?

“To try and get them back on track to where they were,” McCraw said. “Which is sitting down and talking to them, doing a little soft toss and get them back into a rhythm or into a thought process. You simply make suggestions to them, to established hitters, at least that’s what I do.”

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