ATLANTA — One night after benching Preston Wilson as part of his new outfield “merry-go-round,” Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson reinstated Wilson to his starting lineup … in left field instead of his usual center.
“I just felt like the wear and tear on Preston would be less [in left],” Robinson said before last night’s game against the Atlanta Braves. “He’ll have less area to cover, shorter throws. I just thought the alignment would be better overall. It has nothing to do with anything else but keeping him healthy.”
With Wilson in left, Brad Wilkerson started in center field for the first time since July10. Robinson figures to stick with that alignment for the time being, though things could change on days Ryan Church is in the lineup.
Robinson called Wilson into his office to discuss the move. Wilson had played only 30 of his 791 career games in left field and none since 1999, and he was surprised by the switch.
“I don’t know what it’s going to be like,” Wilson said. “I haven’t been out there in a long time. But I told him I’d do the best I can.”
Robinson also met with Wilkerson, who is no stranger to having his position changed. He began the season as Washington’s left fielder, moved to center field for the bulk of the year and filled in at first base for 12 games while Nick Johnson was hurt.
“I wasn’t worried about Wilky,” Robinson said. “I was worried about Preston. He said he hasn’t played the position since 1999. But he said, ‘You’re the manager. All I can do is go out there and give it my best shot.’ And that’s all I could ask.”
As far as the outfield “merry-go-round” — Robinson’s own words — is concerned, the manager tried to downplay it yesterday. He said he hopes to spread at-bats around between Wilson, Wilkerson, Church and Jose Guillen, riding the hot hand and keeping everyone fresh.
Even though Wilson was acquired two weeks ago specifically to add some punch to the Nationals’ struggling offense?
“Wilson was brought here to be a part of the team,” Robinson said. “He wasn’t brought here to be the savior.”
Changes for Chief?
Chad Cordero’s ninth-inning meltdown Tuesday night was as swift as it was surprising. It took only three pitches from the Nationals closer to give up two hits and a sacrifice fly that tied the game at 2-2 and sent it to extra innings.
Cordero figures the Braves knew what was coming, and there may be some validity to that belief. The 23-year-old closer has a reputation for going right after hitters with first-pitch fastballs, just as he did Tuesday, and Atlanta’s hitters seem to know it.
“I’ve faced them so many times,” Cordero said. “They know I go right after them, so I’m sure they knew what I was going to do.”
Cordero doesn’t want to alter his approach too much, but he acknowledged he may need to start throwing sliders and changeups earlier in the count.
Guillen plays through pain
Jose Guillen looked down at his right hand yesterday and almost forgot how bad it looked only three days before.
Guillen, who was hit on the hand by a fastball Sunday afternoon in Washington, said he expected at the time to be out two or three weeks. Instead, he underwent treatment for two days, watched as the swelling went down and flew down to Atlanta in time to start Tuesday’s game.
“I was really surprised I could play yesterday,” said Guillen, who went 2-for-4 with an RBI in the 3-2 loss. “I know the first day, my hand was so swollen up. … You look at my hand now, and it looks like nothing happened.”
Guillen was back in the lineup last night, again wearing a protective pad on his right hand. He said he probably will have to wear it for the rest of the season.
“I don’t want to take any chances,” he said. “I had to just wear something on my hand because I don’t know if I get hit there again what’s going to happen.”
Robinson said he’s not upset he’s now tied with Sammy Sosa on the career home-run list with 586. “I didn’t play this game to hit home runs and set records,” he said. “It’s the old cliche: Records are made to be broken.” …
Both Wil Cordero and Kenny Kelly officially cleared waivers yesterday. Cordero, who was designated for assignment last week, is now a free agent. Kelly, who was designated Tuesday, has been outrighted to Class AAA New Orleans.