Monday, July 18, 2005

With shortstop Cristian Guzman continuing to struggle offensively with a batting average below baseball’s ignominious Mendoza Line, Washington Nationals general manager Jim Bowden is considering a radical solution.

Before last night’s game against the Colorado Rockies at RFK Stadium, Bowden said he had called Nationals special assistant Barry Larkin to try and persuade the 12-time All-Star to come out of retirement and play for the rest of the season. Larkin, 41, ended a spectacular 19-year playing career with the Cincinnati Reds last winter.

Bowden, the Reds’ former GM, has summoned Larkin twice this season to work with Guzman at the plate, but it hasn’t helped. The shortstop is batting .190, more than points below Larkin’s career average.

“I wouldn’t keep calling if I didn’t think there was a chance [to lure Larkin out of retirement],” Bowden said. “Would I like to see him put [a uniform] on and help us out the last two or three months? Yeah.”

Meanwhile, manager Frank Robinson kept Guzman in the lineup last night in his customary eighth spot in the order. The switch-hitting Guzman went 0-for-3 and now is 0-for-15 since returning Thursday after missing 10 games with a strained left hamstring.

Following Sunday’s 5-3 loss at Milwaukee, Robinson contemplated replacing Guzman with utilityman Jamey Carroll, who is hitting .246, but ultimately decided against making a change immediately.

“He’s in the big leagues, he’s playing,” Robinson said.

The Nationals made Guzman their most expensive free agent acquisition with a four-year, $16.8 million deal that lured him from the Minnesota Twins. The Nationals believe the 27-year-old, who averaged .266 over his first seven seasons, is their long-term answer at shortstop, but nobody in the organization can figure out why his hitting has fallen off so dramatically.

“We have to solve Guzman,” Bowden said. “Solving it isn’t going to be trading him. … Solving him means we’ve got to get his bat going somehow. It’s going to be magnified when you lose. When you win, you can carry him because of his defense.”

Johnson’s return uncertain

Apparently it’s going to be at least another week before star first baseman Nick Johnson returns to the lineup.

Johnson had his walking boot removed yesterday, and the diagnosis on his injured right heel remains unchanged. Additional X-rays showed no hairline fractures, but he still is experiencing pain from a bone bruise on the heel.

“It’s definitely less tender than the last time I checked it,” team physician Bruce Thomas said. “If he tolerates [the pain], we’ll advance him — if not, we’ll put him in the boot for the rest of the week. Earlier in the week, he had a new MRI, and it basically showed the same thing, just soft tissue swelling,” Thomas said.

Johnson, who is hitting .320 with eight home runs and 42 RBI, injured his right heel June 26 against the Toronto Blue Jays at RFK Stadium when he crossed the plate awkwardly.

A Far East wrap

Third baseman Vinny Castilla, who is bothered by patellar tendinitis in his left knee, tried an Asian taping method to help reduce pain in his knee. The tape runs down both sides of his kneecap and is supposed to stabilize the joint.

“They said it alleviates the pressure on the sides of the knee,” Castilla said. “It allows the blood to circulate better.”

Castilla said following Sunday’s game in Milwaukee he couldn’t walk straight.

Rehab update

Infielders Tony Blanco and Henry Mateo will start rehab assignments today with two of the Nationals’ minor league affiliates. Blanco (virus), who has been on the 15-day disabled list since Wednesday, will begin at Class AAA New Orleans and play third base. Mateo (shoulder) will go to Class AA Harrisburg and play second base.

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