- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 21, 2005

TORONTO — Claudio Vargas made another early exit last night for the Washington Nationals.

The right-hander was chased in the fourth inning as the Nationals dropped a 6-1 decision to Toronto before 17,465 at Rogers Centre in the teams’ first interleague game of the season.

It was the Nationals’ first game in Canada since they relocated from Montreal to Washington after last season.

The Blue Jays scored five runs in the fourth inning, which included a two-run homer by Vernon Wells, as the Nationals lost after winning their last two games — and three of four overall — against the Milwaukee Brewers.

Vargas (0-2) cruised through the first three innings, allowing only one hit. After recording two outs, Vargas yielded a single to Shea Hillenbrand before Wells slugged a 398-foot blast that landed in the middle deck in left field.

“I got in trouble in the last inning when I started throwing the ball up, and they hit me again,” Vargas said. “Sometimes when I try to do too much, that’s the problem.”

Eric Hinske then lashed a double to right, and Russ Adams was intentionally walked. Rookie Aaron Hill, who made his major league debut last night, then drilled a triple to left to make it 4-1.

Ken Huckaby followed with a single to left beyond shortstop Cristian Guzman’s outstretched glove to score Hill.

“Two outs and all of a sudden the next five hitters, you expect your pitchers to be able to shut it down before that type of damage in an inning,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. “[Vargas] just doesn’t seem to be able to do it. It puts us out of a ballgame right there.”

Wells homered in the eighth off Zach Day to finish the scoring. It was Wells’ eighth homer of the season and completed his first multihomer game of the year and eighth of his career.

It was the second time in four days that Vargas was hit hard. Vargas, who was activated from the disabled list May 10, surrendered six runs in 11/3 innings in an 8-2 loss to Milwaukee on Tuesday. Robinson brought Vargas back on short rest last night in the hopes of bolstering the pitcher’s confidence.

Vargas, who was brilliant in his season debut May 11 against Arizona, could be in danger of losing his roster spot after the two disastrous starts. The Nationals (23-19) expect to get first baseman Wil Cordero back after their nine-game road trip to Toronto, Cincinnati and St. Louis, and the club might be willing to drop from 12 pitchers to 11 to make room for the veteran reserve.

When Vargas was at Class AAA New Orleans earlier this spring, he was 2-2 with a 4.18 ERA in five starts for the Zephyrs. Vargas struck out 35 batters, good for 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings.

Before Vargas’ implosion, the Nationals held a brief lead last night. Vinny Castilla led off the fourth with a double. An out later, Marlon Byrd sent a bloop into right that fell in front of Alex Rios and just beyond the reach of second baseman Orlando Hudson to score Castilla.

Southpaw Ted Lilly (2-4), an All-Star a year ago who has struggled this season, picked up the win. He scattered five hits over six innings while striking out a season-high eight.

“He was just throwing everybody fastball, fastball and then a curve right in the middle,” Nationals outfielder Jose Guillen said. “We were just missing his pitches.”

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