Nats Strike Out, Go 0 for 3 Against Reds

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 26, 2005

CINCINNATI, May 25 -- Jose Guillen sat in the corner of a quiet clubhouse late Wednesday afternoon at Great American Ball Park discussing the disastrous nature of the Washington Nationals' road trip -- "We're just not clicking right now," he said -- when music started thumping through the room. Guillen peered past a few people to find Frank Robinson, the team's manager, standing with a clubhouse attendant, getting help starting the stereo. Anything to lighten the mood, to take the edge off a horrific 12-3 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, the final blow in an unexpected sweep of the Nationals that has Washington reeling.

The problem: The CD that pulsed through the clubhouse as the Nationals dressed and headed for St. Louis was 50 Cent's "The Massacre," an apt soundtrack for this road trip, which includes five losses in six games for the Nationals, who are left to try to right themselves against the Cardinals, the National League's best team.

"We're getting our butts beat as a team," Robinson said. "We're getting out-hit. We're getting out-pitched. We're getting out-hustled. We're getting out-managed. We're getting beat in all phases of the game."

There were no arguments from any corners of the clubhouse, even after the music -- normally saved for the glow of victories -- improved the dour ambiance.

Out-hit? Considering the Nationals managed just five hits in six innings off Reds spot starter Matt Belisle -- a last-minute substitute for flu-stricken Aaron Harang -- that sounds about right. Out-pitched? Nationals starter Claudio Vargas allowed a leadoff single in the first, then a home run to Felipe Lopez, putting Washington in an instant 2-0 hole. Out-hustled? Hard to measure, but the Reds seemed quicker on the base paths, more engaged at the plate, certainly more resilient on the mound.

And out-managed? Robinson was clear about his thoughts afterward.

"When we're going good, it's not the manager; it's the players," he said. "And when you're going bad, it's not the manager; it's the players. All I can do is make out a lineup, and hopefully go out and perform. We're not performing, right now, at any level."

Wednesday, though, provided the latest in a string of curious moves from Robinson. Over the past four days, he has pinch hit reliever Gary Majewski in the 10th inning of Tuesday night's loss, even with hitter Tony Blanco on the bench; started left-handed hitting catcher Brian Schneider in the last two games against left-handers and right-handed hitting Gary Bennett in the last two games against right-handers; and given left-handed-hitting Ryan Church his first start against a lefty all year Tuesday, only to pull him after he struck out in his first two at-bats.

Wednesday, Brad Wilkerson led off the game with a double, an opportunity for the slow-starting Nationals to score early runs. With the count 1-1, second baseman Jamey Carroll followed by calmly bunting Wilkerson to third.

"I think we're just trying to get a run there," Carroll said. "Anything to start something."

Even with Vargas on the mound, it sent a clear signal that the Nationals have almost no confidence in their stumbling offense.

"Hell, a single run would look pretty good," Robinson said. "The lack of scoring? The way we've been going? A single run would look pretty good in that inning."

The Nationals, though, didn't get even the single run. With runners on first and third, Guillen, who finished the day with a pair of solo home runs and a double, struck out, and Church bounced to second. No big inning. Not even a small inning.

"Sometimes I feel responsible for this stuff," said Guillen, now 5 for 33 (.152) with runners in scoring position. "Those guys in front of me [are] really getting on base, and I've not been able to get it done with people on base. . . . Trust me, a lot of these people look up to me to get a big hit. Sometimes, they count on me, and I [am] not able to come through."

No one was able to come through. Vargas (0-3) lasted all of 1 2/3 innings, allowing three runs -- he said he didn't feel comfortable or confident -- and Robinson was asked afterward if he would keep his spot in the rotation. The answer was simple: "No."

So the Nationals yielded a season-high 12 runs and suffered their first sweep of the season at the hands of a team that had lost 18 of its previous 23 games. The Nationals have 11 players on the disabled list and are closer to last place than first.

"We've had a great ride for a month and a half," Robinson said. "Everything was great, and everybody was enjoying it. And now, we've got to suck it up and not feel sorry for ourselves and point fingers."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company