- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 10, 2006

The debacle in Atlanta served as Chad Cordero’s wake-up call.

Since the Washington Nationals’ All-Star closer gave up Jeff Francoeur’s walk-off grand slam on May 13, Cordero has converted nine consecutive save opportunities and owns an 11-inning scoreless streak.

The Chief is back.

“I don’t know if he’ll ever look like last year’s Cordero, but he’s pretty good as he is this year,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. “He’s back in a good groove and he’s throwing the ball well and locating his pitches.”

Last season, Cordero was one of the best stories of the team’s first season in the District. Cordero led the majors and set a franchise record with 47 saves in just his second full season in the majors.

This season didn’t start out well for Cordero.

On May 18 in Chicago, he had three saves and three blown saves with a 4.59 ERA. After Cordero walked the Cubs’ Jacque Jones to put runners on the corners, Robinson walked out to the mound to talk to his closer.

“He just asked if I was the man, if I was the man for the job,” Cordero said that night after saving his fourth game of the season.

The Nationals’ 70-year-old manager had to lay it on the line. The strong language worked because Cordero entered last night tied for fifth in the National League with 12 saves.

“[Francoeur’s walk-off] was the worst it can possibly get,” Cordero said. “From after that it could only get better. Luckily, I’ve kind of hit a hot streak and everything feels great.”

It has gotten better, and today is Chad Cordero Bobblehead giveaway at RFK Stadium. Don’t laugh: It’s a collector’s item. Cordero becomes the first Nationals player to have a bobblehead doll made in his likeness.

Cordero, 24, said the bobblehead even resembles him.

“I have seen it,” Cordero said. “It looks about right. It has the flat hat and the flat bill and it has the two moles on my face. So, I liked it. It looked pretty good. To make a little figure of you, it’s a pretty cool thing.”

Cordero missed most of spring training to be a part of the U.S. team in the inaugural, 16-team World Baseball Classic. While it was a great opportunity for Cordero to represent his country, it cost him in preparation time for this season because he pitched only 11/3 innings in two games for the United States.

If Cordero would have declined the invitation to play in the event, he would have pitched at least 10 times more innings in spring training than he did at the WBC.

“At first, [the WBC] didn’t seem like it was bad for me, I just wasn’t facing the hitters that I would have if I would have stayed back in spring training,” Cordero said. “I was still throwing my bullpens and things like that. I wasn’t facing hitters and that’s what I needed to do. When you face only five guys, it’s tough.”

Guillen update

Nationals outfielder Jose Guillen hit two homers for the Class A Potomac Nationals during a doubleheader yesterday at Frederick’s Harry Grove Stadium. Now, what do the Nationals do with their top offensive threat from a year ago?

Guillen, who was 2-for-4 with three RBI in the doubleheader, is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list today. The Nationals want to talk to their right fielder about his strained right hamstring before activating him.

The Nationals have the best record in the majors in the past three weeks at 15-6 — about the same amount of time Guillen has been on the DL. The Nationals put Guillen on the DL on May 28 (retroactive to May 26), but he sat out five games from May 18 to May 22 with his hamstring injury prior to going on the DL.

“He’ll come over here tomorrow and we’ll take at look at him and probably put him through some things out on the field and then make a decision from it,” Robinson said.

If the Nationals activate Guillen, the club probably will option outfielder Mike Vento back to Class AAA New Orleans.

Patterson’s close

Nationals right-hander John Patterson may come off the DL next weekend to face the New York Yankees.

Patterson, who has been on the DL since April 28 with a right forearm strain, will make his second and perhaps his final rehab start Monday at New Orleans. He is scheduled to pitch five innings and make about 75 pitches.

“Obviously, it’s going to determine how I come out of it health-wise and also how my pitches look, but everything has looked good,” he said. “You can’t get too happy too soon, but hopefully, this will be my last [rehab start].”

If Patterson stays on a five-day schedule, provided he comes out of his rehab start in good shape, he could pitch one week from today in Game 2 of the Yankees series.

Patterson is 1-0 with a 3.86 ERA in four starts this season.

Extra bases

Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda was part of a pre-game ceremony with Robinson last night to help launch the 2006 Prostate Cancer Foundation Home Run Challenge. … The Nationals will hold a canned food drive today and tomorrow in conjunction with the Capital Area Food Bank. Fans who contribute a non-perishable can of food will receive a Nationals promotional item.

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

submit a question, go to the Sports Page

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