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A Short Night for Nats' Day; Chavez, Hammonds Called Up

Dodgers 4, Nationals 2

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 4, 2005; Page D01

LOS ANGELES, May 3 -- They are held together with so much duct tape and chewing gum that when their starting pitcher can't make it out of the fourth inning, they have little chance. So it was for the Washington Nationals on Tuesday, a day they discovered outfielder Terrmel Sledge will likely be out for an extended period of time; they couldn't overcome the sheer odds of the situation again.

The Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Nationals 4-2 in front of 41,190 at Dodger Stadium, chasing right-hander Zach Day from the game in the fourth, getting a solid start from the erratic Jeff Weaver and a two-out, tie-breaking double from catcher Jason Phillips in the fifth.

Dodgers' Jeff Weaver, left, nudges Jose Valentin toward home plate as Nats catcher Brian Schneider looks on. (Kevork D. Jansezian -- AP)

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Before all that, though, Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden said Sledge's hamstring pull is the worst he has seen since Cincinnati star Ken Griffey Jr. suffered a career-altering injury in 2001.

"I'm really scared," Bowden said. "I couldn't sleep last night, praying for Terrmel."

It's possible Sledge, who underwent an MRI exam Tuesday, could be lost for the year, a significant blow despite the fact he was hitting just .243 with eight RBI in 37 at-bats. Manager Frank Robinson hit him fifth regularly, a job that fell to Ryan Church, who began the season as the starting center fielder, struggled and lost his job, but went 2 for 4 Tuesday.

"This is a really, really serious injury," Bowden said, "and it's a very serious loss for this team. People might not think so, because he hasn't performed. But he was going to perform."

The game was just the end to a day that brought a flurry of activity for the Nationals. Sledge's injury -- suffered in Monday night's win -- was coupled with the broken arm suffered by reliever Joey Eischen Sunday. The team moved Eischen to the 60-day disabled list, and then brought up a pair of outfielders -- 13-year veteran Jeffrey Hammonds and Endy Chavez, who entered spring training as the starting center fielder and exited after being demoted. Representing the tying run, he grounded into a double play as a pinch hitter in the ninth.

Chavez hit just .269 with a .352 on-base percentage and five stolen bases for New Orleans, and Bowden went as far as saying, "Chavez has not made improvements getting on base." But in the near term, he gives the Nationals something they sorely lack -- speed.

Hammonds hit .250 with 15 RBI for New Orleans, and will be used primarily as a pinch hitter. The coaching staff in New Orleans felt Hammonds would be most capable of giving the Nationals quality at-bats as a role player even though outfielders Matt Cepicky and Tyrell Godwin had better statistics.

The moves, though, are almost certainly temporary. The Nationals are still carrying just 10 pitchers, but because they are off Thursday, Bowden felt the thing to do was to give Robinson the best offensive options for the end of the Dodgers' series.

Yet the team is already looking toward the weekend series in San Francisco. Tony Armas Jr., on the disabled list with a groin injury since the season began, will make his fifth start for New Orleans on Thursday, meet the team in San Francisco on Friday, and likely be activated early next week. Should Armas be inserted in the rotation, someone would have to move to the bullpen.

That would almost certainly be Day, who managed to escape the first three innings without allowing a run, and was staked to a 2-0 lead on Church's RBI single in the second and Nick Johnson's RBI double in the third.

In the fourth, though, Day allowed two runs, the second on a single by Hee Seop Choi. With the bases loaded, and with Day having allowed nine base runners, Robinson turned to Jon Rauch, who worked out of the jam. Day's ERA is now 5.06, and only once has he pitched as many as six innings.

Rauch, though, allowed the Dodgers to take the lead the next inning, giving up a two-out walk to Jose Valentin. That set up Phillips's double, a play on which Valentin scored from first by knocking the ball from catcher Brian Schneider's mitt with a hard, clean slide.

The Nationals' best chance to stay in the game came in the seventh, when Schneider walked, Cristian Guzman singled -- extending his hitting streak to 11 games -- and Carlos Baerga delivered a pinch-hit single to center. But third base coach Dave Huppert put up the stop sign on Schneider quite late, and Guzman was already charging toward third. Schneider stopped, but Guzman was thrown out trying to go back to second. Instead of ending up with the bases loaded and nobody out, the Nationals failed to score.

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