Nats Win, but Lose Guzman to Leg Injury

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 10, 2005

PHOENIX, May 9 - Their second baseman, an all-star in the past and a presence in the present, went on the disabled list Monday, so they need someone to hit third - and produce. Their third baseman is in a significant slump, with just 1 hit in his last 17 at-bats, so they need someone to make up for it. And their bullpen is so strained that before Monday night's game, their manager was asked who was available, and he responded, "I'm afraid to ask."

Yet on the day Jose Vidro was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a high sprain of his left ankle, the Nationals beat the Arizona Diamondbacks, 4-3, because they got exactly what they needed from all the parties who had to make up for the loss. Nick Johnson, hitting third in Vidro's stead, homered and hit the tie-breaking double in the eighth. Suddenly scorching Ryan Church made up for the struggles of Vinny Castilla by collecting three more hits, including a solo homer himself. And workhorse right-hander Livan Hernandez gave at least a few members of the bullpen a needed blow by gutting his way through seven innings of three-run ball for the 100th victory of his career.

Whatever it takes, from whoever's in there.

"When you're playing good baseball, and you're playing winning baseball, that's what you tend to see," Manager Frank Robinson said. "It kind of rubs off on guys. That's why winning teams continue to win - everybody contributes."

But seemingly no 48-hour period can pass without some sort of calamity for the Nationals. Monday, it came in the form of a strained left hamstring to shortstop Cristian Guzman. "It's just a little thing," Guzman insisted. Yet Robinson said Guzman will certainly miss the rest of this series and will likely be out five to seven days. His removal in the seventh moved Jamey Carroll, already filling in for Vidro at second, to short, and put the portly Carlos Baerga at second.

"No ballclub can afford to lose three or four frontline players," Robinson said. "That's what's starting to happen here."

Yet maybe the worse things are, the better this team plays. The Nationals ensured themselves of a winning road trip by beating the Diamondbacks for the fourth time in four games this year, and they are now 8-2 against the National League West. With two games remaining at Bank One Ballpark, they have won five of seven games on the road trip, seven of their last 10 overall, and are back within two games of Atlanta for first place in the National League East, just a half game out of second.

They can do this stuff because, it seems, regardless of who plays, they contribute.

"That's the sign of a good team," catcher Brian Schneider said, "when you don't have just one or two guys that you have to depend on, all the time."

For instance, when the Nationals left Washington, Church was hitting .174. But outfielder Terrmel Sledge, another young, left-handed hitter who had essentially replaced Church in the lineup, severely pulled his right hamstring during the first game of the trip, May 2 in Los Angeles, and was lost for at least four months. Manager Frank Robinson had little choice but to use Church. The surprise: He produced. He is now 11 for 17 on the trip, raising his average to .302.

"I'm just going to keep working," he said, "keep whipping that horse until it finally falls dead."

Hernandez, who has now won four straight decisions for the first time since April 2002, didn't have close to his best control, walking six. But as he normally does, he baffled hitters with off-speed stuff, and mixed in a lively fastball. In the fifth, he got left fielder Luis Gonzalez looking at a 1-2 fastball inside, causing Gonzalez to growl at home plate umpire Jeff Nelson. Manager Bob Melvin joined the conversation, and Nelson eventually tossed both men.

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