NATIONALS NOTEBOOK

Eischen Is Struggling Mightily

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 21, 2006

PHILADELPHIA, April 20 -- Manager Frank Robinson and left-handed reliever Joey Eischen met for about 20 minutes before Thursday night's game against the Philadelphia Phillies, an emotional conference that could portend the end of Eischen's career with the Nationals unless he begins producing different results immediately.

Robinson has been Eischen's most ardent supporter in the organization. But Eischen's performance thus far -- an 18.00 ERA and two crucial walks that led to the tying run Wednesday night -- has both men worried about whether management can continue to keep Eischen on the roster.

"I have to be convinced, and I have to see, that Joey Eischen cannot perform here" before giving up on him, Robinson said.

The 35-year-old veteran was slowed by shoulder tendinitis during spring training, yet he has a ferocious personality that often dismisses injuries -- even to his own detriment.

"Whether I'm healthy or not, I'm 88 or 89" mph on his fastball, Eischen said. "I've got more than enough stuff to get the job done. My stuff is still better than most lefties in the league right now. My health isn't a question. I've been sabotaging myself."

Left-handed hitters are just 1 for 9 against Eischen, but right-handed batters have eight hits in 15 at-bats with seven walks for an astonishing .682 on-base percentage. In five innings, he has allowed 18 base runners.

The issue clearly is a touchy one for both Robinson and Eischen, who have formed a bond during their time together. Eischen said that before he sat down, Robinson offered him some tissues, because he knew it could be an emotional, frank talk.

"There's nobody that likes me in this clubhouse more than Frank," Eischen said. "I know that. And he knows that I'll break anybody's neck for him. That's unwavering."

General Manager Jim Bowden, however, is another matter. He is impatient with poor performances, and is also high on lefty reliever Bill Bray, who's at Class AAA New Orleans.

"It still comes down to the top" of the organization, Eischen said. "If I put out on the field, then yeah, [Robinson] can stop some things from happening. But if I'm out there [pitching poorly], like I did the other night, it makes him wonder, it makes you wonder, it makes the front office wonder."

The Nationals return home Friday to face the Atlanta Braves, and not only will they still be looking for their first win at RFK Stadium this season, but also to stop the Braves' rejuvenated rotation.

After getting no wins through April 14, Braves starters have three complete games in the last five for an ERA of 2.05. Worse for Washington, the only starter in that span who gave up more than one run in his start, Jorge Sosa, will be skipped in the rotation, and the Nationals will face John Smoltz, John Thomson and Kyle Davies.


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