- The Washington Times - Monday, September 19, 2005

SAN DIEGO — It was nearly 1 a.m. yesterday back in Washington when Washington Nationals closer Chad Cordero surrendered a game-tying grand slam to Khalil Greene of the San Diego Padres with two out in the bottom of the ninth. It was nearly 2 a.m. when Jon Rauch surrendered a three-run homer to Ramon Hernandez in the bottom of the 12th, the final blow in the Nationals’ crushing 8-5 loss.

It’s probably better that the vast majority of Nationals fans didn’t get to watch the carnage as it happened. It wasn’t pretty, and it likely would have sparked a whirlwind of outcries, much of it directed at manager Frank Robinson for his handling of the bullpen during the fateful, five-run ninth.

The game was still eating at Robinson yesterday before the series finale at Petco Park. The Nationals’ subsequent 2-1 loss in a game they led 1-0 in the eighth left them 4 games out of the wild-card race with 12 to play.

“I felt like I didn’t get my job done,” Robinson conceded. “In the ninth inning, I was not able to get the right person out there and the right combination to get three outs.”

Robinson opened the inning with rookie right-hander Jason Bergmann on the mound, but after a leadoff walk and a strikeout, he signaled for left-hander Joey Eischen to face lefty Brian Giles.

There was a smattering of groans from the crowd as Robinson delayed what seemed an inevitable outcome by playing match-up with a five-run lead. Eischen, though, retired Giles on a flyout before allowing a single to pinch-hitter Xavier Nady.

Now came perhaps the crucial moment. With right-handed-hitting Joe Randa coming up, Robinson again decided to play match-up and called upon rookie Travis Hughes. Randa singled up the middle to make it 5-1, and suddenly create a save situation.

So in came Cordero, who leads the majors with 46 saves but has now blown three of his last six chances and has made a career-high 72 appearances. He immediately got into trouble, walking Mark Loretta on a 3-2 pitch, then grooved a 1-0 fastball to Greene and watched it sail into the night for a game-tying grand slam.

“I just went out there and blew it again,” said Cordero, who has a 12.00 ERA in seven September appearances while surrendering five home runs. Asked if his recent struggles are a product of overuse, he said, “It could be. You always get tired. That’s no excuse. I’ve still got to go out there and make the pitches. Being tired is no excuse.”

Privately, the Nationals have been concerned about Cordero for a couple of weeks. He’s lost a little velocity (and even more command) of his fastball, his best pitch, but Robinson said he’ll stick with his closer.

“He is who he is,” the manager said. “The kid is 23-years-old. Twenty-three. He has a number-one pitch, his fastball. And it was good enough until the second half of the season, basically. I don’t want him going out there and getting hit on his slider or his change-up. If he’s going to get beat, he’s going to get beat on his best pitch.”

The end for Armas?

Pitcher Tony Armas originally was against the Nationals’ plan to place him on the 60-day disabled list with right shoulder irritation. But after struggling to throw 15 pitches in the bullpen Saturday night, Armas knew he had to shut himself down for the season. He appears headed for surgery.

It also appears he’s done with the Nationals. Washington is unlikely to re-sign Armas when he becomes a free agent at the end of the season.

Robinson does believe Armas still has a chance to resurrect his career after three seasons battling shoulder troubles.

“If he goes and gets his arm straightened out and he’s fine coming into spring training, there’s no reason he couldn’t be an effective starter,” Robinson said. “But his arm is not right. And if it’s not, he can’t be effective.”

Schneider’s return

Catcher Brian Schneider played catch and took some swings and reported his injured right shoulder is in good shape. Schneider still wants to wait to see how he feels in the wake of his first workout in six days, but he hopes to be ready to return to the lineup tomorrow night against the San Francisco Giants at RFK Stadium.

Gary Bennett made his sixth straight start in place of Schneider yesterday, coming back to catch hours after Saturday night’s 12-inning marathon. Robinson said he considered giving third-stringer Keith Osik his first start of the year but nixed the idea because he said Osik wasn’t familiar with starter Esteban Loaiza.

Osik, it should be noted, caught 11 of Loaiza’s starts from 1996 to 1998 when the two were teammates with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

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