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Leadoff Man Has the Tools, But Not a Clue

Once in every 100 times at the plate, beat out a bunt. After all, whoever heard of a skinny 154-pound leadoff man who refused to bunt? Yet Chavez almost never laid one down, except in batting practice. There, he bunted like Rod Carew.

Once in every 100 times up, be more patient and draw an extra walk. After all, the average hitter draws a walk 10 percent of the time. Chavez drew only 30 walks in 502 at-bats last year. Some pitchers get more free passes than that. It should be impossible for any leadoff man, if he's making an effort, not to walk 10 to 20 times more than Chavez. Take a few, Endy.

Once in every 100 times, let yourself get hit by a pitch. After all, in 1,187 career at-bats, Chavez has been hit by one pitch! A leadoff man should let himself get hit a half-dozen times a year without even trying. Yet Chavez is almost unhittable.

And once in every 100 times up, slap a hit through the left side of the infield instead of lifting your foot, holding the bat down on the knob and trying to pull the ball like a slugger, even though Chavez has only 11 homers in 338 career games.

As he packed his bags in the middle of the Washington locker room, chatting in somber tones with Cardenal, Chavez seemed almost numb. He refused to comment to reporters. But everybody else had plenty to say.

"Potential is great. But you've got to perform. We tried everything we could. I told him, 'Endy, if I had one more 40 home-run bat, I could afford a defensive center fielder who doesn't get on base. But with this team, I can't,' " Bowden said.

"This was our most difficult decision of the spring . . . Maybe it makes a statement in the clubhouse. The players that make the adjustments that we ask them to make to improve themselves are the ones who are going north with us," Bowden said.

When Chavez learned he was being sent down, he told Bowden, "Trade me."

"Other clubs view you the same way we do," Bowden said he told Chavez, meaning he wasn't worth much in a trade. "Instead of complaining, look in the mirror. Go down to the minors and fix the problem. If you took the same approach at 7 o'clock in games that you have at 5 o'clock in batting practice, everything would be okay."

The most perplexed person may be Robinson. "We weren't asking him to do anything he isn't capable of doing," the manager said. "But he had two walks in 37 at-bats this spring. Two. Not walking, not bunting, just swinging. That's not enough to keep a job up here. . . . But he came in here like he wasn't worried about anything."

Sad to say, it's doubtful Chavez can change. This is his 10th professional season. If he were malleable, he'd probably have adapted by now. After all, every team, every coach, has told him the same things: Get on base. Bunt, draw more walks, hit to all fields. Let a pitch hit you. You're a leadoff man. Yet in seven years in the minors, Chavez was hit by one pitch.

So, because Chavez won't change, the Nationals will have to. A lot. And fast. Auditions will be held daily.

Cristian Guzman, whose career on-base percentage is even worse than Chavez's, batted leadoff on Tuesday night. To start the first inning, on a 2-0 pitch -- a take-a-strike situation for leadoff men since roughly 1868 -- Guzman popped up.


This is baseball, the thing Washington didn't have for so long. Start right at the top. Who is the leadoff man? What makes a good one? Where do you find him? How on earth can a team that finished 29th in runs prosper without a good one? Will Chavez be back from the minors, a changed man, the solution instead of the problem?

For the Nationals, the question is not "Who's On First," but who bats first. And, right now, it's no comedy.

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