Friday, September 23, 2005

The white flag has been raised, the starters have been benched and the string is officially being played out.

With his club six games out with 10 to play, Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson finally conceded defeat yesterday, as evidenced by a starting lineup that did not include a regular position player.

Which isn’t to say this afternoon matinee against the San Francisco Giants was a lost cause. Far from it. On the first day of autumn, the Nationals got a good look at some players who could become vital pieces in 2006, and they liked what they saw.

Behind clutch hits from rookies Ryan Zimmerman and Rick Short, not to mention another stellar outing from reliever-turned-starter Hector Carrasco, Washington pulled out a 2-0 win before 29,807 at RFK Stadium.

Who cares that the lineup looked more like one filled out by New Orleans Zephyrs manager Tim Foli than by Robinson or that Barry Bonds was a mere spectator for the Giants?

There are still things to be accomplished over the season’s final week and a half, and yesterday’s victory was proof of that.

“No team that I ever manage is going to roll over and play dead,” said Robinson, whose club needs to go 4-5 to finish above .500. “We’re going to play the schedule out, and we’re going to try to win every game that we can. We want to end on a good note, and we want to have a nice taste in our mouths over the winter.”

Few players will leave a better impression on Robinson and the rest of the organization than Zimmerman, Short and Carrasco. Their stories differ greatly, but all three are trying to prove they deserve significant roles next season.

“Whenever September call-ups get in there, you try to do something to win a game, make an impact, leave an impression on somebody,” said Short, who is hitting .462 (6-for-13) since his promotion. “That’s all you can do.”

Short, who started at second base, had the biggest hit yesterday — a one-out, opposite-field double in the seventh that drove in Zimmerman for the game’s first run. It was his second double of the afternoon, and it gave the 32-year-old rookie four RBI in his brief time as a major leaguer.

“I had a lot of fun out there today,” said Short, who will try to improve his infield defense this winter in hopes of making next year’s team as a utility man.

Of course, Short’s game-winning RBI wouldn’t have been possible had Zimmerman not gotten on base, which hasn’t been a problem for the former University of Virginia third baseman in his first three weeks in the big leagues.

The No. 4 pick in this year’s amateur draft, who turns 21 Wednesday, is hitting .381 (8-for-21) with four doubles already. Moreover, he’s exuding the confidence of a 10-year veteran, hardly fazed by any situation he has been thrust into.

Zimmerman says the majors don’t feel all that different from Class AA and met yesterday’s news that he would be the youngest player in franchise history to hit cleanup with a shrug.

“I feel comfortable,” he said. “The biggest thing I’m happy with is not so much the hits I’ve got but that I’m not swinging at bad pitches. That’s when I get in trouble, when I’m not patient.”

No one has looked more comfortable during the past month than Carrasco, the journeyman reliever who has turned into perhaps Washington’s most effective starter.

Want proof?

He hasn’t surrendered a run in his last 112/3 innings, lowering his ERA to 1.86 with a career-high eight strikeouts yesterday.

All this from a guy who started once in his first 557 career appearances, yet has had three solid outings since volunteering to join the rotation two weeks ago.

“He was good his first time out, excellent his last time out and super today,” Robinson said. “It’s too bad he doesn’t have at least a win or two to show for it. You couldn’t ask for any more from him.”

Carrasco, a free agent at season’s end, wants to get a permanent shot at starting next year. The Nationals will keep an open mind but likely will use Carrasco wherever he is needed most, assuming they re-sign him.

That’s fine with this 35-year-old right-hander, who has been reborn this season, thanks to the change-up he developed with pitching coach Randy St. Claire.

“I’m not afraid to say, ‘Give me the ball.’ ” Carrasco said. “Because I know what I can do.”

He departed after 52/3 innings yesterday with the game scoreless and the Giants threatening with runners on first and second. But reliever Luis Ayala got Edgardo Alfonzo to pop out in his first game since Sept. 1, when a bone spur in his right elbow forced the Nationals to shut him down.

Then the rest of Washington’s bullpen closed the door. Jon Rauch (2-4) earned the win with a perfect seventh. Gary Majewski retired the side in the eighth. And Chad Cordero, who gave up a game-tying grand slam to Khalil Greene in San Diego in his last appearance, pitched the ninth for his major league-leading 47th save.

“He needed that. We needed that,” Robinson said of his closer, who has appeared to hit a wall in September. “After the year he’s had, it would be a darn shame for him to end up having a rough time of it.”

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide