Nats Get One Hit In Another Shutout

The Cubs' Jacque Jones scores from third on a bunt as catcher Wiki Gonzalez tries to catch the ball.
The Cubs' Jacque Jones scores from third on a bunt as catcher Wiki Gonzalez tries to catch the ball. (By Nam Y. Huh -- Associated Press)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 18, 2006

CHICAGO, May 17 -- Get out the thesaurus and try to think up some words to describe what these Washington Nationals are going through. You might find something fancy and poetic, perhaps even tragic. Jose Vidro, their veteran second baseman, can strip all that down and make it mighty simple. "It's not worth watching," he said.

That would be one instant analysis after an ugly 5-0 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday night at cold and soggy Wrigley Field, a venue where the Nationals managed all of one hit off a tall rookie from Richmond named Sean Marshall and three relievers. The loss was the Nationals' sixth on this nine-game road trip, which concludes Thursday, and they have now been shut out twice in a row by the Cubs, a group that, 48 hours earlier, was being dissected by the denizens of this baseball-loving city as a group of underachievers that needed changes, and lots of them.

Now, then, what to make of the Nationals? They have five hits in their two games here, all singles. They have hitters in their lineup that are supposed to be able to produce, Vidro, Nick Johnson, Jose Guillen and Alfonso Soriano. Yet Marshall, a left-hander making his eighth major league start, allowed only Soriano's soft single to left to lead off the sixth, and in the few instances he got into trouble, he overpowered the Nationals with one of his six strikeouts.

Are the Nationals' hitters better than what they're showing?

"It definitely can't get any worse," Vidro said.

That seems to be the theme of the season now. Forty games in, the Nationals are a season-low 14 games under .500, and have been one-hit twice. Their offense ranks 12th or worse in the National League in runs scored, batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage. When the Cubs pushed across an unearned run against right-hander Zach Day in the first, it felt as if Chicago had all it would need.

"It's part of the game," hitting coach Mitchell Page said. "That's why you play 162 games."

In truth, the day didn't have a good feel to it from the start with ominous skies over Wrigley, where a chill set in and heavy rain and even hail fell. At some point during all that, Nationals Manager Frank Robinson was standing in his office, and he bent over to sign an autograph on the desk in front of him. As he straightened up, he felt a pain in his back down to his hip, a feeling that staggered him.

"I don't know what it was," he said.

Robinson found himself in the trainer's room receiving an anti-inflammatory injection. Just more than two hours before the scheduled start of the game -- one which was delayed 51 minutes by the weather -- General Manager Jim Bowden announced that Robinson would be unable to perform his duties, and bench coach Eddie Rodriguez would take over.

Two hours after that announcement, Robinson was ready to return to the dugout. Scratch the scratch.

"There was never a doubt in my mind," Robinson said. "I was going to manage tonight."

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