- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 27, 2005

VIERA, Fla. — The Washington Nationals’ bats have gone silent lately.

There’s no reason to panic because it’s still spring training, but with eight days before the season opener in Philadelphia, the Nationals would like to have some hitting momentum on their side.

Rained out of last night’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Space Coast Stadium, the Nationals have scored five runs and produced just 23 hits in their last four games. The club has gone 1-3 in that stretch.

“It’s getting kind of long in spring training and we haven’t got a consistent lineup in there, but this last week will tell a lot,” Nationals left fielder Brad Wilkerson said. “With a week away, guys refocus and kind of wake up a little bit because you get through that four- or five-week span where you’re kind of dragging a little bit, but I think we’ll be fine for this week.”

Health, rather than won-lost record or team batting average, is the Nationals’ top priority coming out of spring training. Several of the team’s projected starters have been limited by injuries this spring.

Third baseman Vinny Castilla (knee) is hitting .100 in 20 at-bats. Three-time All-Star second baseman Jose Vidro (elbow and knee) is batting .143 with in 21 at-bats and Wilkerson is hitting .176 in 34 at-bats.

“The main goal is to get out of here healthy,” Wilkerson said. “Everybody is ready to go and be ready for the season. I feel that I’m seeing the ball well; I’m just not putting good contact on it. I just want to get out of here healthy, and I’ll be ready for the season.”

Castilla (12 seasons), Vidro (seven) and Wilkerson (three) are not concerned with their spring production, and neither is right fielder Jose Guillen, who has fared better with a .286 average and a co-team high two home runs in 35 plate appearances.

“I don’t think we have anything to worry about in spring training. We need to worry about the season when the season starts, that’s when everything counts,” Guillen said. “To me, it really doesn’t matter.”

Castilla, Guillen and shortstop Cristian Guzman were added to a lineup that was 15th in the 16-team National League last year in runs (635) and average (.249) in the franchise’s final season as the Montreal Expos.

Much of the Nationals’ cold stretch has been against proven pitchers. Last Tuesday in Kissimmee, Fla., against the Houston Astros, the Nationals faced left-hander Andy Pettitte for three innings and managed to score two runs — one earned — on four hits.

On Thursday against the defending NL champion St. Louis Cardinals, left-hander Mark Mulder blanked the Nationals over five innings. Against the Baltimore Orioles on Friday, Orioles ace right-hander Rodrigo Lopez pitched five shutout innings against the Nationals in a rain-shortened six-inning game.

“Pitchers get a little tougher and a little sharper,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said of this point of the exhibition season.

The Nationals are hitting .270 as a team. On the positive side, Guzman is hitting .361 in 36 at-bats and catcher Brian Schneider .333 with a team-high eight RBI.

“Obviously, we want to hit better, we want to produce runs, but I don’t think it’s anything for a panic mode yet,” infielder Jamey Carroll said. “Now, if we were doing this and the season started in two days, I think we would have to find out in a hurry what is going on. As long as the guys don’t start pressing and continue to work, we’ll be fine.”

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