- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 18, 2006

CHICAGO — Frank Robinson was in the dugout for last night’s game against the Chicago Cubs, but only after the Washington Nationals manager was treated for back spasms that had been expected to keep him in the training room for the evening.

Robinson, 70, injured himself about three hours before game time when he went to sit down in the chair in his office. He immediately began to experience back spasms and was taken into the training room to lie down.

“He’s in severe pain,” general manager Jim Bowden said around 5 p.m.

The Nationals made plans for bench coach Eddie Rodriguez to take over as manager last night and perhaps beyond if Robinson wasn’t ready to return. But shortly before 7 p.m., a club official announced Robinson had been given an anti-inflammatory injection in his back and would be OK to manage after all. Robinson will be re-evaluated today.

Robinson appeared to be in perfect health when he held his daily pregame media session, holding court on subjects varying from the Nationals’ recent defensive woes to this weekend’s rivalry series with the Baltimore Orioles to actor Jack Nicholson’s sudden love affair with the Los Angeles Clippers.

But about five minutes after the media session ended, the manager hurt himself when he went to sit down.

“I was very surprised when I heard,” said Rodriguez, who had previously served as manager twice when Robinson was suspended for a game. “His spirits were OK. I’m sure he’s disappointed that he can’t manage.”

Though Robinson had been known to have some back problems much earlier in his managerial career, he hadn’t had any real issues lately.

D.J. gets start

Damian Jackson got a rare start at shortstop last night, only his third of the season in place of veteran Royce Clayton.

Jackson has had trouble cracking the Nationals’ lineup through the season’s first 40 games, getting only 27 at-bats prior to last night. But Robinson wanted to try to work him in there, and with Clayton struggling at both the plate and in the field, yesterday seemed like a logical time to make the move.

Clayton is hitting just .220 (9-for-41) this month with only one RBI in his last 23 games. He also committed a costly throwing error Tuesday that helped lead to a three-run inning in the Cubs’ 4-0 win.

Clayton has committed five errors this season, a slight disappointment given his reputation for solid glove work.

“He hasn’t been as steady defensively as I would have hoped he would be,” Robinson said.

Team doctor switch

The D.C. Sports Medicine Institute, which was hired by the Nationals this season to handle all medical issues, announced yesterday that longtime team medical director Bruce Thomas will no longer work with the club.

Thomas had served as the franchise’s primary physician since 2002 and regularly joined the club on road trips, a rarity in the major leagues. But when the organization switched medical groups this spring, parting ways with MedStar, Thomas’ job became in jeopardy.

Ben Shaffer, the Nationals’ new head orthopedist, made the decision to cut ties with Thomas, not the team.

“There was no disagreement, no problem,” Thomas said. “They just told me they decided to go in a different direction. I’m sure it’s ownership issues and things like that.”

Said Shaffer in a statement: “Per the club’s request, we agreed to hire Dr. Thomas as a primary care and sports medicine doctor in our practice. Our group’s hope of forging a viable working relationship with Dr. Thomas was unsuccessful. We understand the Nationals players’, coaches’ and front-office members’ appreciation of all Dr. Thomas’ significant contributions.”

Shaffer also serves as team doctor for the Washington Capitals, with whom new Nationals owner Mark Lerner has a minority interest.

The club was surprised to learn news of Thomas’ departure late Tuesday night.

“He was a very important part of our family,” Bowden said. “He was always there 24-7 for our players, all of their families. … Apparently it just did not work.”

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