PHILADELPHIA, April 4 - Washington Nationals Manager Frank Robinson said repeatedly over the past week that he wouldn't figure out his lineup until after the exhibition season was over. But asked Monday morning when he had finally reached a conclusion, he responded, "About six days ago."
Six days earlier, projected center fielder and leadoff man Endy Chavez was sent to the minors, and though Brad Wilkerson didn't hit first at all during spring training, there he was when the Nationals played the first game in their history, atop the lineup in an 8-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies.
"Frank gave me the idea it might happen a couple of weeks ago," Wilkerson said.
The new lineup - with Wilkerson at the top and fellow leadoff candidates Cristian Guzman and Nick Johnson second and fifth, respectively - was unlike any the Nationals used all spring. It took shape in part out of necessity. Terrmel Sledge played left because Ryan Church, the likely starter in center, felt tightness in his groin going back for a ball in the team's final exhibition game Sunday at RFK Stadium.
"It's a bummer," Church said. "But I have to look at the long term."
Long Road Home
The Nationals not only open the season with a nine-game road trip, but 22 of their first 25 games are against divisional rivals from the National League East. The only exception: The first series in Washington, April 14-17 against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
"We want to win some of these ballgames on the road before we go back home so the fans will really be excited about it, and so will we," Robinson said. . . .
Infielder Tony Blanco made his major league debut, striking out as a pinch hitter in the eighth. J.J. Davis also appeared as a pinch hitter, singling in the sixth.