- The Washington Times - Monday, April 10, 2006

HOUSTON — Forgive the Washington Nationals if they are a little bleary-eyed for tomorrow’s home opener.

Assuming a typically paced finale today in Houston, the Nationals will board a charter flight for Washington about 7 p.m. Eastern, arrive at Dulles International Airport about 10 p.m. and walk into their apartments or hotel rooms about an hour later. Then they play their home opener tomorrow afternoon against the New York Mets at RFK Stadium.

The Mets should be well refreshed, because they have today off. The Nationals? They might be lucky to remember the name of the town they’re in.

“I don’t know how this came about,” manager Frank Robinson said.

This is life for the Nationals, who have one of baseball’s toughest schedules to open the season — seven straight on the road in New York and Houston, a three-day stop in the District to face the Mets, then six more on the road at Florida and Philadelphia.

“You don’t want to start the season 13 of 16 on the road,” said catcher Brian Schneider, the Nationals’ player representative. “It doesn’t seem right, but those are the cards that we’re dealt.”

Of course, this is nothing new for this franchise, which dealt with all kinds of travel issues during its final years in Montreal. Even last season’s squad had to open with a nine-game road trip while crews worked to put the finishing touches on RFK.

Through it all, the Nationals have had little input.

“Nope, when they make the schedule, they make the schedule. They don’t ask anyone about it,” Schneider said. “You’d think with the way they treated us the last couple years that things would be different now. I’ve heard things about us opening seasons at home from now on. It’d be nice to have a schedule in our favor.”

New-look lineup

Robinson gave Nick Johnson, Brian Schneider and Brandon Watson the start of the game off against Astros left-hander Andy Pettitte yesterday.

Schneider played late in the game, and he and Watson likely will sit out today’s series finale, with Wiki Gonzalez filling in at catcher and Marlon Byrd in center field. But Johnson’s absence was a bit of a surprise, especially considering his .353 average in the season’s first five games.

Robinson said he simply wanted to give Johnson, who has never played in more than 131 games in a season, a start off. He’ll be back in the lineup today against Houston left-hander Wandy Rodriguez.

Robinson also wanted to get backup first baseman Matt LeCroy in the lineup for the first time. He had just four pinch-hit at-bats previously.

“That factors into it,” Robinson said. “‘Cause if these guys sit for two weeks, three weeks, they lose the edge they came out of spring training with. And one at-bat here doesn’t do the job. … You try to get them in there once in a while to get three or four at-bats.”

Eischen frustrated

Left-hander Joey Eischen had another rough outing out yesterday, but he sounded determined to snap out of his early funk.

In his first three games, Eischen has allowed five runs on four hits and five walks in 22/3 innings.

The problem, he said, is not physical. It’s mental.

“I want my confidence back,” Eischen said. “I want to pitch and not think. And right now, I’m thinking too much. I’m trying to do too much. I’m trying to be a cute pitcher, and I’m not a cute guy. I’m a grunt-and-groaner.”

Eischen vowed to show up early for work today and fix himself.

“I don’t know why it takes me a couple of [screw-ups] every year to get my head out of my can,” he said. “But an M.O.’s an M.O., and mine’s kind of sticking right to the pattern.”

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To

submit a question, go to the Sports Page

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