Thursday, April 20, 2006

PHILADELPHIA — They are two of Frank Robinson’s most trusted pitchers, veteran left-handers who during their careers have gotten the job done more often than not.

And that’s what made the Washington Nationals’ 7-6, 10-inning loss to the Philadelphia Phillies so painful last night. The Phillies may have rallied from three runs down, but it could be said they didn’t earn the win.

Joey Eischen and Mike Stanton handed it to them.

“All losses hurt the same,” said Stanton, who allowed the game-winning single to Ryan Howard. “But when you go out there and you do it in that type of fashion, it’s hard to swallow.”

Howard’s one-out single to right in the 10th, which scored Bobby Abreu from second, was the final blow. It snapped Washington’s three-game winning streak and prevented manager Frank Robinson from recording his 1,000th victory.

Howard, though, might never have had the opportunity to drive in the winning run if not for the two walks Stanton (0-2) issued to Abreu and Chase Utley earlier in the inning.

“To do that is just absolutely unacceptable,” Stanton said. “Frank gave me the ball. I had a job to do, and I didn’t come anywhere close to getting the job done.”

Neither did Eischen. Handed a 6-5 lead with one out in the eighth, he walked the only two batters he faced (Utley and Howard) after getting 1-2 counts on both. Yanked immediately by Robinson, Eischen had to watch as teammate Gary Majewski surrendered a run-scoring, bases-loaded groundout that tied the game.

“I was being a [wimp] on the mound,” Eischen said. “Simple as that. I was trying not to give up a big hit, trying to get a punch-out, groundball maybe. I was trying to be too fine, and I [messed] things up.”

The shoddy performances of the two left-handers, each of whom threw eight of his 14 pitches for balls, left Robinson beside himself.

“If you can get two strikes on a hitter,” Robinson said, referring to Eischen, “why can’t you throw another strike?”

That might not be the only question the Nationals are asking about Eischen right now. In seven appearances totaling five innings, he has put 18 men on base (nine hits, nine walks). His ERA stands at 18.00, and he’s pitching with tendinitis in his left shoulder.

With former No. 1 pick Bill Bray thriving at Class AAA New Orleans, Eischen could be running out of time to right himself.

“What I’ve got is what I’ve got,” said the 35-year-old, who has been with the organization since 2001. “If it ain’t good enough, it ain’t good enough. I’m going to keep battling and get this thing straightened out. It’s just been really hard. I really take the way I pitch to heart.”

The late collapse by the bullpen spoiled an otherwise remarkable performance by starter Livan Hernandez.

Hernandez was just as effective at the plate as on the mound. He went 3-for-4 with two doubles, his eighth career homer and three runs scored while holding the opposition to three runs over seven innings.

But with his pitch count at just 87, the Washington ace was allowed to take the mound for the eighth, and that’s when things started to crumble. He gave up a one-out double to Aaron Rowand, then a two-run homer to Abreu that cut the Nationals’ lead to 6-5.

It was the third homer surrendered by Hernandez in the game and the ninth he has allowed in four starts this season.

“I can pitch better than this,” he said. “I know that.”

Even if Hernandez offered less than his best last night, it still should have been enough to win with some help from his suddenly hot-hitting teammates.

Ryan Church hit his fourth homer in three games, making him Washington’s team leader even though he was recalled from the minors only Friday. Jose Vidro also had three hits and drove in three runs, giving him a club-high 14 RBI in 13 games played.

But no lead is safe at Citizens Bank Park, as the Nationals found out. Eischen said he was trying to be too fine with his pitches, which may have been understandable given the tiny dimensions at this home run haven, but Robinson wasn’t buying that excuse.

“They shouldn’t feel like that,” the manager said. “That’s the thing: You have to make good pitches. If you don’t make good pitches, it’s an unforgiving ballpark.”

And when you don’t even throw the ball over the plate, you really aren’t giving yourself a chance.

“There’s no excuse to go out there and miss in one spot consistently and not make the adjustment,” Stanton said. “I’m supposed to be a major league pitcher, and I have to make an adjustment right there, and I just didn’t do it. The harder I tried to do it, the farther away it got. There’s just simply no excuse for that whatsoever.”

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