- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 14, 2006

VIERA, Fla. — Joey Eischen only pitches one way — with an aggressive all-out style.

And the Washington Nationals love him for it. The veteran left-hander has long been a favorite of manager Frank Robinson, teammates and fans alike for his no-holds barred approach.

They just wish Eischen knew how to ease up every once in a while.

Consider the events of Eischen’s spring so far. Following an injury-plagued 2005 season, he arrived in Florida determined to regain his old form. Just one problem: His body wasn’t ready for it.

So when Eischen hurt his shoulder throwing too hard his first day in camp, his grand plan was thrown out of whack. And while the rest of the Nationals have been competing on the field for the last two weeks, Eischen has been relegated to frustrated bystander.

“It’s been tough because I worked so hard to be prepared,” he said. “And then to come here and have your shoulder set you back, it just made the first couple weeks real tough on me. That first week, I thought my shoulder was destroyed. I’ve never hurt my shoulder. I’ve never had it act like that.”

After treatment and rest, though, Eischen is ready to go. He’ll finally make his exhibition debut tomorrow against the New York Mets, throwing one inning of relief. And assuming all goes well, he still has enough time to get himself ready by Opening Day.

But this shoulder injury, which is officially being called tendinitis, doesn’t figure to go away any time soon. Eischen fully expects he will need arthroscopic surgery after the season. In fact, he would have gone under the knife this winter if he hadn’t been preoccupied with his full recovery from the freak broken right arm he had last year.

Most pitchers might have decided just to shut themselves down, have surgery and hope to return sometime this summer.

But Eischen is not most pitchers.

“We’ll bite the bullet, put the mouthpiece in and go at her ‘til she blows out,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll make it to the finish line, and then we’ll go see [team surgeon Wiemi] Douoguih and have it cleaned up. That’s the plan.”

And is Eischen worried at all about trying to pitch the next six months with a bum shoulder?

“I think I’ll be fine,” he said. “It’s stuff I’ve pitched with in the past. I have a lot of faith in myself. I’m confident that I’ll be OK.”

Provided the doctors don’t find a more serious problem in Eischen’s shoulder, the club will let him proceed as planned. They wouldn’t dare try to tell him otherwise.

As much as Robinson would like to see Eischen ease up a little, he has long since given up on that notion.

“With Joey? No,” Robinson said. “Because Joey only knows one way. He gives you all he’s got, full-bore. That’s not all bad. — But in this case, he should have come into camp understanding that he had to take it easy and go slower. I just think he got a little ahead of himself.”

There’s no doubting Eischen’s value to the Nationals. In the clubhouse, he’s a respected, vocal leader. On the mound, he’s a bulldog who consistently seems to find a way to get the job done, even if he takes some circuitous routes to get there.

It’s not uncommon to see Eischen, upon bounding in from the bullpen in the seventh or eighth inning, get so hyped up that he throws his first pitch to the backstop. More often than not, though, he comes right back and makes a key pitch to retire a dangerous left-handed hitter with the game on the line.

“You get to know your players, what he does, how he performs, what he’s capable of doing and not capable of doing,” Robinson said. “And we understand it. You live with Joey. That’s all I’ll say.”

The Nationals organization has been living with Eischen for five years now, and he hasn’t let the club down yet. In those five seasons, he has a 2.97 ERA.

Some of his best work came a year ago. After suffering that freak broken arm in May, he returned to pitch in 57 games. And though he put 53 men on base in only 361/3 innings, his ERA was an impressive 3.22, and he allowed only eight of 48 inherited runners to score.

A free agent in the offseason, Eischen could have tested the market. But he’s always felt loyal to the Nationals organization, especially to Robinson, so he signed a one-year, $1.3 million contract in December.

And even if his 2006 debut is coming a little later than expected, there’s no place Eischen would rather make it.

“I have an obligation here,” he said. “I have fans that are my fans ‘til someone tells me different and a manager who’s still my manager. Until those things change, my loyalties and my faith in my team and my teammates are unwavering. This is my squad.”

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

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