Saturday, July 23, 2005

Washington Nationals outfielder Jose Guillen had to see for himself.

Before facing Roger Clemens and the Houston Astros last night, Guillen used a tape measure to figure out the distance from home plate to RFK Stadium’s center-field wall, coming up with 412 feet by going over the pitcher’s mound. As interested onlookers gathered around third base, Guillen then measured the distance down the left-field line to the foul pole but would not report the distance.

“I wanted to find out the truth on my own,” Guillen said.

Guillen insists RFK’s dimensions are not putting demons in his head, although 18 of his 19 home runs have come on the road.

“I’m not complaining about the ballpark — it’s not in my mind,” Guillen said. “I know it’s hurting a few guys around here, including myself. I should be in the same [home run] category as Derrek Lee and Andruw Jones.”

Guillen was in the lineup last night after receiving a cortisone injection Thursday night to reduce pain in his ailing left shoulder. Following Thursday’s loss to Colorado, Guillen hinted that rest might be needed to heal the shoulder. Instead, Guillen, who also has played with a swollen left ankle and sore ribs this season, was batting in his usual third spot in the order.

“Some guys heal much quicker than other guys,” Guillen said. “I just feel much better today right away, and I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t play.”

Johnson heads for rehab

First baseman Nick Johnson will begin a rehab assignment today at Class AAA New Orleans. Barring a setback, Johnson may rejoin the Nationals on Tuesday in Atlanta for the start of a three-game series between the National League East’s top teams.

Before last night, the Nationals had gone 5-11 without their cleanup hitter. Johnson ran hard yesterday for the first time since stepping awkwardly on home plate June 26.

“It feels good to be able to go out and play baseball — it’s been a long time,” said Johnson, who was hitting .320 with eight home runs and 42 RBI when he was injured. “I’m going to go down [to New Orleans], get some at-bats and go from there.”

Asked whether Tuesday is a realistic goal for his return to the Nationals, Johnson replied, “Hopefully, that would be nice. I feel fine.”

It’s time to go to battle

That was the rallying cry in the Nationals clubhouse before the game. To emphasize the point further, left-handed reliever Joey Eischen bought his teammates camouflaged Nationals hats.

The Nationals, who had lost eight of 10 and 11 of 15, needed something new to spark their struggling offense. Eischen also said he bought the hats to support American troops overseas.

“Most of it has to do with honoring our troops and what’s going on over in Iraq and other places where our guys are serving, and it’s also a reminder to everybody in the clubhouse that things aren’t that bad for us right now,” Eischen said. “There are people fighting real wars and real battles, and we need to get ourselves motivated for the one we’re in right now.”

Eischen’s teammates welcomed the idea.

“It’s just time to switch things around here and try to get this [losing] out of our heads,” outfielder Ryan Church said.

Extra bases

The Nationals held Carlos Baerga out of the starting lineup after his wife, Miriam, had her gall bladder removed at Washington Hospital Center yesterday. Baerga arrived at RFK around 5 p.m. He entered the game at third in the eighth, singled in his only at-bat and scored the Nationals’ lone run. … Third baseman Vinny Castilla, out for four games because of a sore left heel, plans to resume playing Tuesday in Atlanta.

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