- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 5, 2005

Barry Larkin can relate to the difficulty Cristian Guzman has had in playing his home games on natural grass for the first time with the Washington Nationals.

Larkin, a special assistant to general manager Jim Bowden, hit .313 in 2000 for the Cincinnati Reds. After the artificial turf in Riverfront Stadium was replaced following that season, he batted .256 in an injury-plagued season and .245 the next two years. He then finished his career with .282 and .289 averages as the Reds played their home games on the grass of Great American Ball Park.

“There is something to say about playing on turf because if you hit the ball, if you chop the ball on a turf infield, you get hits,” Larkin said. “We went from turf to grass in Cincinnati, and my hit total went down. So, yes, there is some truth to it.

“I had to adjust my swing and had to make real small adjustments in my swing because all of a sudden that ball that I bounced at the plate and/or that ball that I bounced up the middle is not bouncing up the middle because the pitcher is catching them.”

Guzman, who played six seasons in Minnesota, isn’t getting those ground-ball base hits at RFK Stadium that would roll through the infield on fast surfaces like the Metrodome’s. The switch-hitting Guzman was a career .266 hitter until this year but is batting just .195 this season despite getting two hits last night.

Larkin, a 12-time National League All-Star, said Guzman is suffering from inconsistencies in both his mental and physical approaches to hitting. Larkin, in town just this weekend, is helping Guzman in the batting cage, but the mental part is up to the Nationals’ 27-year-old shortstop.

Larkin said he saw a glimmer of hope in Guzman’s swing in Friday’s 3-2, 11-inning win over the Florida Marlins at RFK. Guzman, who went 0-for-4 Friday, dropped to 9-for-78 (.115) in his last 23 games.

“He hit the one line drive sacrifice fly to right-center field and [Jeff] Conine made a great play on it, and then he hit a ball real hard right at the third baseman the other way, which I thought was a good sign,” Larkin said.

Wilkerson remains out

Nationals manager Frank Robinson said he would not play center fielder Brad Wilkerson until Tuesday’s series opener at RFK against the Oakland Athletics.

Wilkerson, who sat out of Friday’s game, is listed as day-to-day with an inflamed right hand. However, Robinson was forced to play Wilkerson as a defensive replacement in the ninth inning last night after left fielder Marlon Byrd was ejected in the sixth inning.

Nasty Boys, Part II?

Barry Larkin said he sees similar qualities in Nationals relievers Luis Ayala, Chad Cordero and Gary Majewski to the “Nasty Boys,” the Cincinnati Reds’ heralded corps of Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble and Randy Myers with whom Larkin played on the 1990 World Series champions.

Ayala (4-3, 2.45 ERA), Cordero (2-1, 1.33 ERA with 14 saves), and Majewski (1-0, 2.22 ERA) are just getting started, but Larkin believes they might be comparable.

“You’ve got Cordero, Majewski and Ayala, you pick your poison — which one do you want to face?” Larkin said. “I don’t want to face any of them. I’ve faced Ayala and I’ve faced Cordero, I have not faced Majewski, but I hated [facing the other two].”

Rauch doubtful this year

Nationals 6-foot-11 right-hander Jon Rauch said he is in no rush to pitch again this season. Rauch underwent successful surgery Wednesday at Washington Hospital Center to repair a slight tear in his rotator cuff.

Rauch went 1-3 with a 4.00 ERA in eight appearances this season.

“As far as I know, it’s six to eight weeks before I even pick up a ball,” said Rauch, who now has had two shoulder surgeries. “Once throwing starts, we’ll see how that progresses. There’s not a real rush to make sure that I’m back for the last month of the season. I want to make sure that everything is healed and I won’t have this done in two more years.”

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