Thursday, April 20, 2006

PHILADELPHIA — Washington Nationals relief pitcher Joey Eischen met with manager Frank Robinson yesterday and insisted he is not injured, only struggling mentally on the mound.

“Health isn’t a question,” said Eischen, who has put 18 men on base in just five innings this season. “I’ve been sacrificing myself trying all kinds of different things to fix my head and fix things out there. I just need to go out and pitch and get confidence in myself and trust in myself.”

It remains to be seen how much longer the Nationals can afford to trust Eischen in crucial situations.

Robinson was nearly at his wit’s end Wednesday night after the veteran lefty walked both batters he faced, the key development that led to Washington’s 7-6 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies. That outing left him with an 18.00 ERA in seven appearances, nine hits, nine walks and a .375 opponents’ batting average.

Robinson tried to express some confidence in Eischen yesterday, citing his track record of success over the last four years. But the manager also acknowledged that time is running out for one of his admitted favorite players to either turn things around or admit he’s hurt.

“I’d rather give him a little more leeway in April than have to do it in June or July,” Robinson said. “I have to see and I have to be convinced that Joey Eischen cannot perform here if he tells me that he is healthy. And if he isn’t healthy, then I have to, and this organization has to, make a decision on what to do.”

Several club officials are convinced Eischen, 35, isn’t healthy. He battled tendinitis in his throwing shoulder during spring training, and some believe he rushed to make it back by Opening Day. Robinson said Eischen’s velocity is down and he’s exhibiting a lack of control, both telltale signs of an arm injury.

But, as the manager pointed out, a club can’t force a player to go on the disabled list. He has to accept that he’s injured.

“All of us play sometime in the game when you’re not 100 percent,” Robinson said. “But when it starts to affect your performance, then you have to start thinking maybe it would better to get this thing right.”

Extra bases

Jose Guillen re-injured his strained oblique muscle while trying to make a throw to the plate on Ryan Howard’s game-winning hit Wednesday night. Guillen, though, told Robinson he was OK to play yesterday and was back in the Nationals’ lineup as cleanup hitter. However, he had to leave the game in the eighth inning after he was struck by a pitch on his left foot. …

According to Elias Sports Bureau, Livan Hernandez on Wednesday became the first major league pitcher to record three extra-base hits (a homer and two doubles) in one game since Pittsburgh’s Rick Rhoden on Sept. 1, 1980. …

Utilityman Robert Fick served as catcher Wednesday night during the second game of his rehabilitation assignment with Class AA Harrisburg.

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