- The Washington Times - Friday, September 9, 2005

Washington Nationals shortstop Cristian Guzman is certainly the ultimate survivor.

The Nationals have made several roster moves designed to remove the light-hitting Guzman from the regular lineup. Yet Guzman is still out there on an almost nightly basis despite barely being able to hit his weight.

After Thursday’s 3-for-4 performance, Guzman raised his batting average to .202. The last time Guzman was hitting over .200 this season was June30. But the Nationals signed Guzman to a four-year, $16.8 million free-agent contract in the offseason, and that’s one reason he has kept his job.

“He came here as our starting shortstop, and he’s on a four-year contract,” manager Frank Robinson said. “So what do you do? Do you bury a guy in the first year of a four-year contract? He is the shortstop and his past history [indicates he can hit].”

Guzman was a career .266 hitter in six previous seasons with the Minnesota Twins. When the Nationals traded for veteran shortstop Deivi Cruz on Aug.30, it appeared Guzman would be benched. But second baseman Jose Vidro went down with a knee injury last week, and the versatile Cruz has been forced to play there.

“Maybe this is an adjustment year for him, I don’t know,” Robinson said of Guzman. “But he has struggled all year. This is real strange for an individual who has been as successful as he has and consistent as he was in the American League. For him to struggle this much and this long over the course of this season — I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Look for Johnson today

Injured first baseman Nick Johnson appears recovered enough from a bruised heel to return to the Nationals lineup. Before last night’s game, Robinson said he probably would have started the left-handed hitter if southpaw Horacio Ramirez hadn’t been on the mound for Atlanta.

He will probably start today against right-hander Jorge Sosa.

Johnson has missed six games since he aggravated a tender heel last Saturday trying to beat out a grounder back to the mound.

Though outfielder Brad Wilkerson has capably handled first base during Johnson’s absence, the Nationals certainly miss Johnson’s bat. He is hitting .286 with 12 home runs, 31 doubles and 59 RBI.

Church activated

The Nationals outfield got a little more congested yesterday when the club activated rookie Ryan Church off the 15-day disabled list. Church had been on the DL with a broken toe since being hit on the right foot by Cincinnati’s Ramon Ortiz in the second inning Aug. 24.

“I know it’s late in the season and all, but it’s getting back to game ready,” Church said of his toe. “They haven’t talked to me about how they are going to use me. I’ll take any at-bats as I get them.”

Church ranks among the Nationals’ leaders in several offensive categories, including batting average (third at .295), RBI (fifth with 36), on-base percentage (second at .360), and slugging percentage (fifth at .473).

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