Nationals' Fortunes Change Quickly

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 24, 2006

Gary Majewski was pumping fastballs to Wilson Betemit, pitches popping up at 93 and 94 mph on the scoreboard at RFK Stadium. It is, by all accounts, his best pitch, a sinking fastball that stays down and away from a left-handed hitter. From the dugout, though, Washington Nationals Manager Frank Robinson worried. His team led by a run. It was the top of the eighth, and Betemit's Atlanta Braves had men on first and third with one out.

Robinson had one thought: Too many fastballs.

"He's out there just throwing," Robinson said. "He's not pitching. He thinks harder is better. It's not."

In this case, it wasn't. Majewski served Betemit a 1-2 fastball that missed its intended location, Majewski estimated, "by a couple feet." Betemit, a backup infielder, deposited it over the wall in right-center, the three-run homer that lifted the Braves to a 3-1 victory in front of the smallest announced crowd to see the Nationals at RFK in their two seasons here -- 21,569.

"He's expecting a fastball," Majewski said. "I threw one too many fastballs, but that's my strength. I got to stick with it."

The homer overshadowed other developments last night, some positive, some not so much. Start with Tony Armas Jr., the beleaguered right-hander who might now be coming back to the form that, early in 2003, made him seem like he might be a consistent winner. Two shoulder surgeries later, Armas had a performance that Robinson called "very encouraging," throwing 6 1/3 innings of three-hit, no-run ball against the Braves, lowering his ERA to 2.70 in four starts.

Armas, though, said he is beyond the point where he is happy just to survive, to feel no pain in the shoulder that was last repaired in September.

"I want to get results," he said, "instead of [saying], 'I felt good today.' "

Had the Nationals managed a clutch hit -- other than Jose Guillen's two-out, RBI double in the first -- Armas might have had the desired result. There were two key at-bats that might have broken the game open, and catcher Brian Schneider had the first -- bases loaded, one out in the fourth against Braves starter John Thomson.

"You want to get that hit," Schneider said. "You want to be the man. You want to drive in the runs for your team."

Schneider didn't, bouncing into a double play that ended the threat and the inning. In the fifth, Ryan Zimmerman came to the plate with two outs and the bases juiced again, but he took strike three from Thomson, and the Nationals' lead remained tenuous at 1-0.

That's how it remained after Armas left the game to cheers, after Mike Stanton relieved him and waited out a delay so workers could remove a clever prep school banner that somehow showed up on the wall in center -- "Go Gonzaga. Beat St. John's." And it's exactly how it remained when Majewski, one of the Nationals' most reliable relievers in 2005, entered to pitch the eighth.

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