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Church Is Struggling To Produce

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 21, 2005; Page D07

Ryan Church didn’t start last night’s game against Atlanta Braves left-hander Horacio Ramirez, a typical tactic for Washington Nationals Manager Frank Robinson against lefties. But there are indications that Church could be on the cusp of being replaced in the everyday lineup by Terrmel Sledge, another young outfielder who swings from the left side.

Church, who entered last night’s game hitting .161, isn’t prepared mentally when he gets to the plate, hitting coach Tom McCraw said. Rather than having an idea of what pitch he would like to hit early in the count, Church is swinging at balls well out of the strike zone — pitcher’s pitches.

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“He has to maintain it,” McCraw said of the appropriate mental approach. “It can keep in him the major leagues. If he doesn’t maintain it, it will get him sent to the minor leagues. Simple as that, because you have to produce here.”

Church agreed with that assessment.

“It’s a mental thing,” he said. “I’m late. You can’t do that here. The guys are too good.”

Should Sledge take Church’s spot in the lineup, Brad Wilkerson would move from left to center, Robinson said. Sledge entered last night’s game hitting .286 with seven RBI in just 14 at-bats.

Working Overtime

Entering last night, only five pitchers in the National League had nine appearances, and two — Luis Ayala and Joey Eischen — are Nationals. “I don’t like doing it,” Robinson said, “because this is what wears your bullpen down in July and August.”

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