- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2006

LOS ANGELES — If Frank Robinson could do it over again, he would have told first baseman Nick Johnson to play closer to the line. Or he wouldn’t even have pitched to the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Cesar Izturis with one out and a man on second in the eighth inning of a tie game.

Robinson did neither of those, so when Izturis rapped a high-hopper off Johnson’s glove for the double that gave the Dodgers a 4-3 win over the Washington Nationals yesterday afternoon, the 70-year-old manager only could wonder what might have happened had he taken his own advice.

“I’d rather take the blame for this one myself because I didn’t do my job in the eighth inning,” Robinson said after his Nationals were swept at Dodger Stadium. “If I’m going to pitch to Izturis, I’ve got to move Nick over to the line a little bit. Or else don’t pitch to him.”

The rally began one batter earlier when reliever Jon Rauch surrendered a double to the right-center gap to James Loney. That brought Izturis to the plate with one out, first base open and Los Angeles’ Nos. 8 and 9 hitters on deck.

Rather than intentionally walk Izturis, Robinson instructed Rauch (3-2) to go after him. Izturis, though, bounced a hard shot down the first-base line. Johnson sprinted over and made a backhand stab at the ball but got only a piece of it. By the time second baseman Damian Jackson retrieved the ball, Loney had come all the way around to score, and Izturis was standing on second with a tiebreaking double.

“It hit my glove,” Johnson said. “It just popped up, and I missed it.”

Said Robinson: “If I moved him over toward the line a little bit, it would’ve been an easy play.”

Nothing came easy for the Nationals during this disappointing weekend. They were trounced 13-1 in Friday night’s opener, couldn’t overcome an early deficit in Saturday’s 7-5 loss and couldn’t make the most of countless scoring opportunities yesterday afternoon.

Despite drawing nine walks off four Dodgers pitchers, Washington (46-59) managed to score only three runs — one when left-hander Mark Hendrickson stumbled as he strode to the plate with a runner on third and was called for a balk.

The Nationals couldn’t take advantage of Hendrickson’s other mistakes. They stranded the bases loaded in the third, ran themselves into an out in the fifth and wasted a leadoff double in the eighth.

“That seems to be part of our game when we’re not in a real good groove,” Robinson said. “When we’re winning ballgames, we score runs and get people in. But when we’re struggling a little bit, we seem to leave people out there.”

The hard-luck victim again was Ramon Ortiz, who made another quality start but had nothing to show for it by day’s end.

Like Alfonso Soriano in left field, Ortiz took the mound yesterday not knowing whether this would be his final start with the Nationals. The veteran right-hander has experienced an up-and-down season, but in a trade market thin on quality pitchers, he might be an affordable option for a contending club.

Ortiz certainly helped his cause, tossing 61/3 effective innings that were marred only by three solo homers.

The first two — back-to-back shots by J.D. Drew and Andre Ethier in the third — weren’t devastating. The final one, though, proved critical.

With the Nationals clinging to a 3-2 lead, Robinson sent Ortiz out to start the seventh inning. He immediately paid the price. Pinch-hitter Jose Cruz Jr. belted a 2-1 changeup deep to right, Ortiz slammed his hands to the ground and got into a crouch and Cruz circled the bases to a huge ovation after tying the game.

“That home run hurt my heart,” said Ortiz, whose record stood pat at 7-9, his ERA down to 4.84. “I can’t believe it.”

Notes — The Nationals optioned Mike O’Connor to Class AAA New Orleans before yesterday’s game, then were informed by the left-hander that he has been experiencing elbow pain for some time.

O’Connor, who was tagged for seven runs in four-plus innings Saturday afternoon, said his elbow had “been bothering me for a little while. I just didn’t say anything.”

He will undergo an MRI today in Los Angeles, joining teammate Ryan Drese (who will have Tommy John surgery on his right elbow later this week).

The Nationals weren’t happy with O’Connor’s failure to disclose the injury.

“I’m upset because he didn’t at least tell me or tell the medical staff and get treatment for it in the first place,” Robinson said. “I don’t really appreciate that part of it. But I can understand it a little bit because I guess he felt like he was fighting for his life if he was going to stay up here.”

Washington will promote right-handed reliever Ryan Wagner, the third player acquired in this month’s blockbuster trade with the Cincinnati Reds, from New Orleans today to take O’Connor’s roster spot. …

Catcher Brian Schneider had to leave yesterday’s game in the fourth inning with a mild lower back strain. Schneider said he hurt himself reaching for a pitch in the first inning but was feeling better after receiving treatment and does not believe the injury is serious.

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