As Soriano Goes, So Go the Nats

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 25, 2006

BALTIMORE, June 24 -- It is, by now, little mystery. When Alfonso Soriano hits, the Washington Nationals have a chance. When he doesn't, their job becomes far more difficult.

After Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, Soriano has gone just 10 for his last 64 (.156), dropping his average from .310 to .278, the lowest it has been in a month. Only twice in that span has he had more than one hit in a game, and the Nationals are 4-11 during the same stretch.

Soriano makes a habit of meticulously analyzing video, and the Nationals' coaching staff largely leaves him alone.

"You just don't jump at him right away," Manager Frank Robinson said.

But in the midst of this slump, Soriano has worked some with hitting coach Mitchell Page.

"I feel comfortable," he said, and he insists that a heavy wrap he wore on his right hand and wrist pregame during a series in Boston this week is having no effect on his performance. "It's fine," he said.

During this slump, Robinson said Soriano is not only swinging at too many breaking pitches out of the strike zone, but he's allowing first-pitch fastballs to sail by for strikes, exactly the pitches he jumped on when he was hot.

The one certainty: Soriano's performance directly impacts the Nationals' chances of winning. In Nationals' victories, Soriano is hitting .375 with a .463 on-base percentage and an .828 slugging percentage; in losses through Friday, he has hit .215 with a .249 on-base percentage and .379 slugging percentage.

Clayton Moves Up, Moves On

Royce Clayton had played in 1,966 major league games before Saturday, and in only seven of them had he started and hit third. So his reaction when he saw Saturday's lineup card, "I don't know about surprised anymore," Clayton said. "I'm excited about it."

Clayton went 3 for 4 with two doubles in Friday night's 2-1 loss to the Orioles. Robinson said with the Nationals having scored 13 runs in their last five games, he felt like he had to shake things up. . . .

Right-hander Tony Armas Jr., placed on the 15-day disabled list Friday because of a forearm strain -- a move that is retroactive to June 20 -- was still disappointed in the decision Saturday.

"It's a thing you don't want to go through," Armas said. "I just want to be out there."

Armas, among the many Nationals who could be traded, is 6-4 with a 4.44 ERA.

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