- The Washington Times - Monday, July 18, 2005

MILWAUKEE — There’s not much manager Frank Robinson can do to shake up the Washington Nationals’ stagnant offense. He can fiddle with the batting order and perhaps bench the one regular who has failed to hit all season, but that’s about it.

“I don’t see anywhere we can go to get somebody that’s going to step in and give us some offense,” Robinson said after the Nationals’ 5-3 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers yesterday. “So we’re going to have to ride this out.”

“This” is the collective slump Washington has found itself in for two weeks. Yesterday’s loss at Miller Park was the Nationals’ eighth in 11 games.

They still cling to a 1-game lead in the National League East, thanks to another loss by the Atlanta Braves. But Robinson knows that cushion could evaporate if his club doesn’t get its act together soon.

“We can’t continue along the lines that we’re going,” he said. “Because you look up, and this division will be just like it was a month or so ago. Everyone will be standing there eye-to-eye, and if you happen to stumble, two or three teams can go by you. And we certainly don’t want that.”

The primary area of concern has been the offense. Washington (53-39), which has scored more than four runs twice in its last 11 games, managed only three yesterday against a familiar face: starter Tomo Ohka, whom they traded to the Brewers June10 for infielder Junior Spivey.

Ohka clearly got the upper hand in a head-to-head matchup with the man who replaced him in Washington’s rotation, Ryan Drese. Perhaps inspired to beat the club that gave up on him, Ohka (6-4) allowed four hits and no walks in seven sharp innings, holding the Nationals to one run until Brian Schneider delivered a two-out, two-run double in the seventh.

Ever reserved, the Japanese right-hander insisted he took no extra satisfaction in sticking it to Robinson and Co.

“Nothing special,” he said. “I didn’t get excited. I like those guys. I don’t hate them.”

His new manager thought otherwise.

“You can’t ever tell with him, but I’ve got to imagine it had to mean something,” Milwaukee’s Ned Yost said. “Human nature and common sense tells you it does.”

Common sense also suggests Ohka got the Nationals at a most opportune time — at their lowest point in nearly two months. Not since a 2-7 road trip through Toronto, Cincinnati and St. Louis has Washington stumbled home in such a slump.

The club that welcomes the last-place Colorado Rockies to RFK Stadium tonight will be coming off consecutive losing series to the Mets, Phillies and Brewers.

“What can you say? We were beaten by teams we should be beating,” second baseman Jose Vidro said. “No disrespect to them, but I think these are the teams we need to take advantage of and we didn’t.”

The Nationals were headed for a four-game split with Milwaukee when they jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning yesterday on Jose Guillen’s homer off the left-field foul pole.

But as has been the case so many times during this recent slump, they gave the lead right back. Vidro booted a routine grounder that would have ended the bottom of the first, and moments later, Drese surrendered a two-run double to Geoff Jenkins.

Drese gave up three more runs in the third inning to make it a 5-1 game, but the Nationals were left wondering if things might have turned out differently without the two unearned runs in the first.

“I don’t know, but it’s my job when it does [happen] to get the next guy out, try to pick him up,” Drese said. “I didn’t get my job done.”

In three of his six starts since coming to Washington, Drese (3-2) has posted an 0.39 ERA. In his other three starts, his ERA is 9.82.

“When he’s bad, I guess he’s bad,” Robinson said.

At least Drese has had his share of success with the Nationals. His shortstop, Cristian Guzman, continues to struggle through one of the worst offensive seasons by a full-time major-leaguer in quite a while.

With an 0-for-2 performance yesterday, Guzman saw his batting average drop to .192. He’s 0-for-12 since coming back from a strained hamstring, he has been unreceptive to the advice he has received from Robinson and hitting coach Tom McCraw and he could be in danger of losing his job.

Robinson acknowledged he has thought about benching Guzman in favor of Jamey Carroll, and though he wouldn’t say any moves like that were imminent, it may only be a matter of time. Robinson had Carlos Baerga pinch-hit for Guzman in the seventh inning yesterday.

“He’s the manager. Whatever he does, he’s got to do,” said Guzman, adding his benching would be “a bad decision. Everyone knows I’m an everyday player. I’m not a bench player.”

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