- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 3, 2005

LOS ANGELES — As he made a mental list of the five healthy pitchers available in his bullpen for last night’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson couldn’t help but come to an obvious conclusion.

“We need a left-handed reliever,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief that he did not have one at his disposal. “I know we don’t have it, but that’s what we need.”

The Nationals found themselves in such a predicament after Joey Eischen — the only left-hander on their 11-man staff — broke the radius bone in his right arm during Sunday night’s loss to the New York Mets at RFK Stadium. Eischen underwent surgery at Baltimore’s Union Memorial Hospital yesterday and faces eight-to-12 weeks of rehab before he can return.

So it was that the Nationals kicked off their nine-game West Coast trip, physically weary from an all-night, cross-country flight and mentally weary from the loss of yet another key member of their bullpen.

“It’s a big loss,” closer Chad Cordero said. “He was our leader out there. Someone’s going to have to step up in that way, but those are big shoes to fill.”

For at least one night, Washington chose not even to attempt to replace Eischen. Unable to get another arm from Class AAA New Orleans all the way to Los Angeles so quickly and uncertain who they want to call up in the first place, the Nationals elected instead to go with a five-man bullpen against the Dodgers.

All five (Cordero, Luis Ayala, Gary Majewski, Hector Carrasco and Jon Rauch) were right-handers.

“If it has to be done, it has to be done,” Robinson said.

One month into the season, Washington already has seen two-thirds of its Opening Day bullpen go down, either to injury or ineffectiveness. Eischen joins right-handers Antonio Osuna (sore shoulder) and T.J. Tucker (pulled groin) on the 15-day disabled list. Left-hander Joe Horgan was demoted after posting a 21.00 ERA in eight appearances.

Despite the massive overhaul, the Nationals’ bullpen actually has performed well through the season’s first 25 games. The unit’s combined 5.51 ERA is a bit misleading because it includes both Horgan and Osuna (who had an astronomical 42.43 ERA at the time of his injury). Minus those two, Washington’s bullpen ERA was an impressive 2.37 entering last night’s game.

“We’ve already been able to overcome a lot of stuff,” said Majewski, who threw seven scoreless innings upon his promotion from New Orleans before finally surrendering three runs Saturday. “Everyone tries to help each other out. We are one big unit. Everybody’s together.”

As well as they have done to compensate for their losses, the Nationals have to wonder how much longer their depleted bullpen can hang on. Ayala already had appeared in 15 games before last night, tied with Eischen for the most in baseball. Cordero had appeared in 12 games, finishing 11 of them.

Robinson would have loved to call up a left-hander from New Orleans yesterday, but the harsh truth is that no viable options existed. Horgan has yet to correct his mechanical problems, veteran Micah Bowie is injured and the Zephyrs’ only other lefty, Matt White, is not on the Nationals’ 40-man roster.

Though there was speculation Washington would bring up right-hander Tony Armas Jr., who appears recovered from his groin pull, Robinson said such a move was unlikely because it would bump one of the Nationals’ current starters into the bullpen.

He wasn’t prepared to make that move yesterday and thus could only shake his head at the pitching predicament he suddenly found himself in.

“This is about as far as we can go when it comes to people we know and feel like can come up here and do the job,” Robinson said. “We got Rauch, Majewski and Carrasco — that’s three people in the first month. You can’t go much deeper than that. Tucker goes down, then Horgan has problems, then Eischen goes down. That makes it awful tough.”

Notes — After slumping miserably through the season’s first three weeks, shortstop Cristian Guzman quietly entered last night’s game riding a nine-game hit streak. During that time, Guzman has seen his batting average rise from .106 to .233. …

Robinson started Terrmel Sledge in left field last night over Ryan Church and said he likely will continue to rotate between the two until someone steps up and seizes the job. …

It could take a few days for the Nationals to recover from their brutal travel schedule. After playing Sunday night in Washington, the club didn’t arrive in Los Angeles until about 6 a.m. (9 a.m. EDT). “I think everyone was in a daze last night,” Robinson said.

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