Carlos Baerga was the epitome of a utility player for the Washington Nationals in yesterday’s game against the Houston Astros.
Forced to play both third and first base during the 14-inning marathon, Baerga did not commit an error in 10 chances — seven putouts and three assists.
When outfielder Jose Guillen was taken to the hospital for X-rays after getting hit on the right wrist by Houston’s Dan Wheeler in the ninth, Nationals manager Frank Robinson was forced to make defensive changes.
Baerga was moved from third to first, and Brad Wilkerson switched from first base to right field in place of Guillen.
“Five years ago when I was told that I was going to become a utility player, I got myself ready every day to play those kind of positions,” said Baerga, who is hitting .279 this season. “Since spring training, they told me that was going to be my job. So when someone tells you something, that shouldn’t catch you by surprise. I know now that I have to be ready to play third, second or first.”
A little more than a decade ago, Baerga was one of the finest second basemen in baseball as a three-time All-Star (1992-93, 1995) with the Cleveland Indians.
“That’s the base I played all my career, but I realize after I hurt my legs, I hurt my hamstring, that I don’t have the same range to play there,” Baerga said. “I realize that there are younger players better than me. I don’t miss it that much.”
Baerga has filled in admirably for injured first baseman Nick Johnson (heel) and ailing third baseman Vinny Castilla (knee).
“He’s done an excellent job out there,” Robinson said. “But you know, Carlos has good hands. People just expect him to have a lot of range, cover a lot of areas, and he never did do that. There’s nothing wrong with his hands.”
Castilla, who sat out five games this past week because of pain in his left knee, was hoping to put off his return until tomorrow but was forced to play four innings because of Guillen’s injury.
Castilla, who went 0-for-2, said he felt OK and should be fine for tomorrow’s start of the Nationals’ key three-game series against the Braves.
Castilla put his knee to the test in the 13th inning when he charged a slow roller down the third-base line and made a nice off-balance throw to retire Lance Berkman.
“I felt a little bit [of pain] on the play … but it wasn’t major pain,” Castilla said.
Castilla has suffered patellar tendinitis since spring training. The veteran was having trouble just walking following the series against the Milwaukee Brewers earlier this month.
“I’ll probably need a day off here and there,” Castilla said. “They say surgery is not an option because the patella tendon is very difficult to have surgery on. I just have to rest it and have a lot of therapy and treatment.”
With the Nationals in the thick of a pennant race, Robinson said Castilla will have an occasional day off.
“Hopefully, we can keep it from getting to this point where he would have to sit down for extended periods of time,” Robinson said. “We’re going to try and avoid that the rest of the year.”
Castilla is hitting .252 with six home runs and 44 RBI.
Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez threw out the ceremonial first pitch. … Veteran left-handed reliever Mike Stanton has yet to allow a run with the Nationals. In his fifth appearance since being signed off waivers July13 from the New York Yankees, Stanton came on in the 11th inning and got Orlando Palmeiro and Berkman to ground out before being pulled for Gary Majewski. Stanton has allowed just two hits with Washington.