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Nats' Guzman Is Quietly Putting Things Together

Average On the Rise Following His Hit Streak

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 6, 2005; Page D01

SAN FRANCISCO, May 5 -- Frank Robinson didn't realize it.

"Really?" the Nationals manager said.

Nationals shortstop Cristian Guzman is hoping that he's left his sluggish bat behind. (Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)

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Cristian Guzman didn't realize it.

"I didn't know that," the Nationals shortstop said.

Here's the part you can believe: Guzman didn't get a hit in Washington's 5-2 victory Wednesday night over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Here's the part you might have to say out loud, just so you can believe what you hear: That ended Guzman's 11-game hitting streak.

"He should be hitting cleanup," Robinson said.

Easy now. Eleven-game hitting streaks do not validate four-year, $16.8 million contracts, and no one is pushing Guzman for the National League all-star team just yet. His average, after all, is just .238.

That, of course, is infinitely better than .085, which is what Guzman hit for the first 13 games of the season. For the first time in his seven-year major league career, he was in a new market, a new park, playing in a new league with new teammates. And he was flailing.

"Yes, it's frustrating," Guzman said. "But I tell everybody: You going to go through times when you don't feel comfortable, when you don't hit. And then you going to go through times when you feel good, when you hit everything. That's why they call it baseball."

Slumps at the beginning of the season, however, are magnified, and as the Nationals got off to a fine start, Guzman's struggles stood out, in part because of the size of his contract, in part because some in baseball questioned his offensive ability and his attitude, but mostly because of the number that was put up next to his name on giant scoreboards up and down the East Coast. Guzman: .120. Guzman: .113. Guzman: .085.

"I wasn't worried," hitting coach Tom McCraw said.

Really? "Yes," McCraw said. The reason is fairly simple: In six seasons with the Minnesota Twins, Guzman hit .266, including .274 last year. Robinson and McCraw are both believers that veteran players are going to produce what they have in the past.

"If he was a rookie or a second-year player, you'd worry," McCraw said. "You'd worry about how to approach him, would you be putting too many thoughts in his head.

"It's like a drowning man. A young player might try to flail around, trying to grab onto something, and only get himself into bigger trouble. But a veteran, that guy's going to find something to grab onto, something that gets him into shore."

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