- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 23, 2005

PITTSBURGH — Plagued by what his manager called a “tired bat,” Washington Nationals third baseman Vinny Castilla sat out yesterday’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates and set out to work with hitting coach Tom McCraw on regaining his lost stroke.

Castilla, who was one of the Nationals’ hottest hitters in April, has cooled off dramatically since. His batting average, which was as high as .280 two weeks ago, has dipped to a season-low .255 after a 3-for-24 road trip.

With that in mind, manager Frank Robinson sat Castilla for the second time in four days, giving Jamey Carroll the start at third base.

“I think he’s pressing a little bit right now,” Robinson said. “He’s trying too hard.”

Castilla may not have been in the lineup, but he was still hard at work yesterday. He and McCraw have been spending extra time in the hitting cage trying to find ways to increase his bat speed.

“It’s just something we have to work on until he gets comfortable,” McCraw said. “We’re going to try a myriad of things to get him back to where he had that bat speed earlier in the year for us.”

Though it wouldn’t be inappropriate to question whether Castilla’s drop in bat speed is a product of his age (he turns 38 on July4), both Robinson and McCraw say that’s not the case.

“All of a sudden, you don’t turn the lights out,” Robinson said. “He’s still a productive player. You just don’t expect him to drive in 100 runs anymore.”

McCraw plans to continue working with Castilla today at RFK Stadium, even though the Nationals are off.

Carroll on good footing

With Castilla slumping, Robinson was grateful to have Carroll at his disposal as a fill-in third baseman. The Nationals’ utility man hasn’t seen a whole lot of action since the club acquired Junior Spivey two weeks ago. Coupled with the expected return of second baseman Jose Vidro in the next week or two, it would appear Carroll’s role could decrease even more.

That led to some speculation that the popular 31-year-old’s job could be in jeopardy when Vidro comes off the disabled list. Robinson, though, gave Carroll a clear-cut vote of confidence yesterday.

“If there’s one guy that’s very important to this ballclub, it’s Jamey Carroll,” Robinson said. “He just proves it time and time again. Jamey isn’t going anywhere. If Jamey goes, I’m gone.”

Long road ahead

Gary Majewski never made more than 57 relief appearances in his minor league career, and he never was allowed to pitch on three consecutive days.

They don’t have such restrictions in the major leagues, though, so Majewski is having a hard time staying both physically and mentally sound as the season wears on. He remains on pace for 70 appearances.

The rookie right-hander pitched in three straight games this week, and his third outing was hardly memorable. Majewski was tagged for four runs on three hits and two walks in the eighth inning Tuesday night.

The problem wasn’t velocity — Majewski’s fastball topped out at 97 mph — but rather location and movement.

“It felt great coming out of my hand,” he said. “I just didn’t know where it was going.”

Majewski was held out of yesterday’s game, and he expects to be fine for tomorrow night’s game against Toronto.

Revamped rotation

The Nationals reconfigured their starting rotation for the weekend series with the Blue Jays. Esteban Loaiza, who hasn’t pitched since June 13 because of neck and back pain, is scheduled to start tomorrow night’s opener. Livan Hernandez will pitch Saturday, with Tony Armas Jr. getting the call Sunday.

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