- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 17, 2006

CHICAGO — Frank Robinson has tried all kinds of pitching combinations to get him through the seventh, eighth and ninth innings this season.

None of them has worked, though, so the Washington Nationals manager has given up on the concept of defined roles.

Going into last night’s game against the Chicago Cubs, Robinson knew only that Chad Cordero was his closer. Every other decision he had to make about relievers would be based strictly on a feel for the situation.

“That’s exactly what it is, and that’s not a good way to go into a ballgame,” Robinson said. “You’d like to have a good idea about who you’re going to use in what spot.”

Robinson couldn’t afford to make any pregame declarations, though, not after watching his bullpen crumble during the first week of this nine-game road trip and throughout the season. Washington’s relievers entered last night a collective 3-10 with a 4.66 ERA, three successful saves in 10 tries and 18 homers surrendered in 1212/3 total innings.

The Nationals have tried a host of pitchers in set-up roles — Felix Rodriguez, Gary Majewski, Mike Stanton and Jon Rauch — and none has been able to perform with any level of consistency.

There could be changes forthcoming, though. The club is going with an 11-man pitching staff, but both Robinson and general manager Jim Bowden suggested they are likely to add a 12th arm soon.

And there is no shortage of viable candidates waiting in the minor leagues. Bowden rattled off a list of pitchers he would consider promoting, including left-hander Bill Bray and righties Saul Rivera, Kevin Gryboski and Shawn Hill.

“All have thrown phenomenally well,” Bowden said. “And all are being given serious consideration on a daily basis.”

Bray, of course, has drawn the most attention. The former No. 1 draft pick is 4-1 with a 2.81 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 252/3 innings at Class AAA New Orleans, and most in the organization believe he’s ready for the big leagues.

Robinson, though, cautioned against those who believe Bray alone could solve the Nationals’ pitching woes.

“You know, Bill Bray is not the answer to all our bullpen problems,” he said. “Everyone who’s out there has had some problems this year. One guy is not going to be the answer to our problems. When we feel like it’s time to make moves, we’ll make them. But you can’t just go out there and change the entire bullpen.”

Church or Byrd?

The Nationals’ revolving door in center field remained open for Ryan Church last night. It was Church’s third-straight start after Marlon Byrd had started the five previous games.

Robinson would prefer to pick one guy and stick with him, but the manager said yesterday he will continue to ride whoever’s hot at that moment.

That doesn’t leave a lot of margin for error for either Church or Byrd, who could find themselves benched after only a couple of rough games.

“This is the way I use guys,” Robinson said. “I don’t believe in letting one guy sit for any length of time, unless he’s not a regular-type player. … If one guy was a regular guy and one guy was part-time, then yes. But what I do is play a guy for a little bit, see what he can do. If he doesn’t get hot after a few games, then I look at the other guy.”

Byrd said he doesn’t let the constant lineup switching get to him.

“It can be tough if you worry about it,” he said. “I told you all in spring training, I come here and I’m ready for it. If I’m in there, if I’m not in there, if I’m back and forth, it really doesn’t bother me.”

Drese update

Right-hander Ryan Drese, on the 15-day disabled list with an elbow injury, underwent an MRI Monday in Cincinnati that revealed a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. Drese, who had previously been diagnosed with a strained flexor tendon, will rest another two-to-four weeks before the club re-evaluates him.

Nationals head trainer Tim Abraham said season-ending ligament replacement surgery is a possibility, though the club might seek a second medical opinion if it comes to that. Abraham noted Drese had previous elbow problems and said this tear may have been a pre-existing condition.

Extra bases

Right-hander Pedro Astacio (on the DL with a strained forearm) threw in the bullpen yesterday and is scheduled to pitch batting practice Friday in Washington. He remains a ways from going on a minor-league rehabilitation assignment, though. …

Fellow injured right-hander John Patterson (who also has a strained forearm) played catch yesterday and will throw out of the bullpen this weekend at RFK Stadium. Patterson continues to push for a return to the Nationals rotation around June 1. …

Television broadcaster Bob Carpenter will miss tomorrow’s series finale at Wrigley Field to attend his daughter’s high school graduation in Tulsa, Okla. Radio announcer Charlie Slowes will fill in for Carpenter in the TV booth, with Dave Jageler handling the radio broadcast solo.


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