- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 20, 2006

MIAMI — There are days when Frank Robinson will watch his Washington Nationals get shut down by an opposing pitching staff and tip his cap toward the guys in the other dugout.

And then there are days like yesterday when the Nationals are held to two hits by the Florida Marlins, and Robinson blames his own players for their lack of execution at the plate.

It was hard to fault the manager for doing so after a maddening 1-0 loss to the Marlins at Dolphin Stadium. The Nationals cobbled together those two hits against rookie right-hander Anibal Sanchez and two relievers, but they had plenty of opportunities for more and failed each time.

Washington (40-56) put runners in scoring position with less than two outs four times in nine innings. Not a single one scored after Nationals hitters went 0-for-8 with a man on second or third, causing a stir out of their 70-year-old manager.

“We cannot get a man in from scoring position,” Robinson said. “It’s unacceptable, major league hitters [that] can’t get people in from third base.”

And because of it, Washington wasted perhaps the best outing of the year from right-hander Ramon Ortiz, who allowed one run on six hits in seven standout innings. His only mistake was a 2-2 pitch to Cody Ross in the second that wound up in the left-field bleachers.

Otherwise, Ortiz was brilliant, getting ahead of hitters and walking only one before finally being pulled for a pinch-hitter in the eighth.

“It’s hard,” said Ortiz, who is 1-4 over his last five starts despite a 3.34 ERA. “When they’re going 1-0, you have to make a perfect pitch. That’s what I tried to do today.”

Ortiz (6-9) might have enjoyed a better fate had he not committed perhaps the afternoon’s biggest gaffe by the Nationals. With a man on second and one out in the third, Ortiz hit a grounder toward third and then took off down the line. Miguel Cabrera’s throw appeared to be late, but first-base umpire Dan Iassogna called Ortiz out.

Why? Because Ortiz somehow missed the bag in his attempt to beat Cabrera’s throw.

Had he been safe, Alfonso Soriano’s subsequent fly ball to left likely would have scored Austin Kearns from third. Instead, it ended the inning and quashed the Nationals’ potential rally.

“It’s unbelievable, man,” Ortiz said. “I hit a groundball there, and we miss the base. Maybe in that inning, we tie the game. You know, nothing’s going good for us. It’s unbelievable. It’s a crazy game, man.”

Yes, but it’s also a fairly simple game, especially when it comes to hitting with runners in scoring position. The Nationals seem to turn that fundamental situation into exercises in futility on a regular basis.

They managed to get a man to second base with less than two outs four times but simply couldn’t advance beyond that.

Following back-to-back walks in the fifth, Brian Schneider grounded into a double play and Ortiz struck out. After a leadoff walk and sacrifice bunt in the eighth, pinch-hitter Luis Matos flied out and — following an intentional walk to Soriano — Felipe Lopez struck out.

And in one of their best opportunities of the afternoon — runners on the corners with one out in the ninth against closer Joe Borowski — they fell flat again. Marlon Anderson struck out on three pitches, and Austin Kearns sent a deep drive to center field that was caught at the warning track to end the game.

“I knew it was going to be close,” said Kearns, who is 3-for-19 (.158) since joining the Nationals last week. “I missed it a little bit. But I knew it was going to be close out there.”

It has gotten so bad, Robinson said he’s now shocked when one of his players actually advances a runner in those situations. Not that he and his coaching staff haven’t tried to pound some sense into them.

“We’ve already done that,” Robinson said. “Spring training. Batting practice. We’ve got drills on it. We talk on the bench about it. But you can’t make them do it. You can’t get in there for them. … We just don’t do what we have to do or what the situation calls for.”

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To submit a question, go to the Sports Page

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