- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2006

Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson has become a big fan of interleague play, currently in its 10th season.

“I think it’s a good thing for baseball,” Robinson said yesterday. “I enjoy seeing players from the other league, competing against them. Your marquee-type matchups draw well.”

Robinson should like interleague play; the Nationals have fared well against the American League. Last season Washington went 12-6, the best record for any National League team. Since the inception of interleague play, the franchise is 83-77 against the AL following the Nationals’ 3-1 victory over Baltimore yesterday at RFK Stadium.

In fact, Robinson would like to see interleague play expanded, with each NL team playing teams from each of the AL’s three divisions instead of just one.

The Nationals play 18 interleague games this season: six against their natural rivals, the Orioles, plus three-game series against the New York Yankees, Boston, Toronto and Tampa Bay.

Robinson is in favor of doubling the Nationals’ interleague schedule to 36 games and reducing the number against their NL East rivals. The Nationals play 72 games this season within the division, 18 against each team.

Draft plans

With the June 6 draft approaching, the Nationals have four of the first 70 picks.

General manager Jim Bowden said his scouting combine has a list of 50 to 55 players the club really likes. He concedes the Nationals won’t land a talent like regular third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, whom they chose with the fourth pick overall a year ago. However, if two of their top four picks eventually work out, it will be a successful draft.

With scouting director Dana Brown and assistant GM Bob Boone leading planning, Bowden is confident of making the right choices. Following Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at RFK Stadium, the Nationals will work out some of the top prospects.

“We’re in a good situation — we’ve done our homework,” Bowden said. “Some of the best players in the country are going to come in here. To me, it’s really nice to hear that all these great young players want to come here to work out. I don’t think it’s because we have two first-round picks [Nos. 15 and 22]. I think the word is out that this is going to be a first-class organization.”

Johnson gets brief rest

First baseman Nick Johnson didn’t start yesterday’s game, but he finished it. Johnson entered in the sixth inning as a pinch hitter for shortstop Royce Clayton and stayed in as a defensive replacement for Matt LeCroy.

Robinson wanted to give his slumping first baseman a day off. After Johnson went 0-for-4 on Saturday, his batting average fell below .300 for the first time since April 12.

Johnson entered yesterday’s game hitting .293. After hitting .341 in April, Johnson is batting just .223 (15-for-67) in May.

“He’s not putting good swings on the ball. He’s getting beat inside, and outside he doesn’t have that pop in his bat,” Robinson said. “I’ve been looking at him for about three or four days really, and each day I changed my mind [about whether to bench Johnson]. During the game yesterday, I said, ‘That’s it — he gets tomorrow off.’”

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