Armas Falters, Stanton Rises

Nick Johnson take a cut and misses completely on a pitch from Jason Schmidt in the fourth inning.
Nick Johnson take a cut and misses completely on a pitch from Jason Schmidt in the fourth inning. (Eric Risberg - AP)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 3, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 2 -- A week ago, Mike Stanton wore a cap with a script "W" above the brim and tutored the young men in the Washington Nationals' bullpen, some of them more than 15 years his junior. Wednesday afternoon at AT&T Park, Stanton's black cap bore the interlocking initials "SF," and he stood on the mound, the game on the line, facing Nationals pinch hitter Alex Escobar, who represented the tying run.

In a way, this is nothing new for Stanton. He represents the sum total of the Nationals' final weekend before the trade deadline -- dealt to San Francisco for a 19-year-old minor leaguer in the team's only transaction -- and the Giants are his seventh major league team.

"The first couple times you face your old team, there's kind of a weird vibe there," Stanton said. "But you got to get through it and do your job."

Stanton did his Wednesday, freezing Escobar with a breaking ball that ended an 8-6 loss for the Nationals, not to mention snapping a miserable nine-game losing streak for the Giants that transformed them from contenders for the National League West title to also-rans wondering how their final two months will finish up.

Stanton's save -- his first since September 2004 with the New York Mets -- wrapped up a poorly played, poorly pitched game from everyone other than Giants starter Jason Schmidt. That the Nationals got two homers from the indefatigable Alfonso Soriano -- the first to lead off the game, the second a two-run shot in the seventh -- mattered not by game's end. That Nick Johnson pulled Washington within two runs in the ninth with a two-run homer of his own was irrelevant as well.

What mattered most was Tony Armas Jr. And Armas, by his own admission, is "just struggling."

"I feel good with every pitch," he said. "It's just, it seems like every pitch I throw, I don't know what's coming. I'm kind of frustrated. My location I don't think is bad with all my pitches and stuff. I don't know. Things are not going good."

No, they are not. Armas's line: 3 2/3 innings, eight hits, six earned runs. Four of those runs came in the fourth, during which he was removed after throwing a wild pitch with Moises Alou at the plate. When Saul Rivera replaced Armas, Alou -- who went 4 for 4 with four RBI -- hit a two-run double, and the Giants were up 6-1.

Afterward, Manager Frank Robinson was asked what was wrong with Armas, a question that has seemingly been posed every five days for the last month. In his last seven starts, Armas is 1-4 with a 9.20 ERA. Four times in that span, he failed to complete four innings.

What, Robinson was asked, could be done to fix him?

"If I could fix him, I wouldn't be sitting here," Robinson said. "Believe me, I'd be sitting on an island somewhere, with a nice drink in my hands, and relaxing -- with my own private jet. When there was a Tony Armas around, I'd fly in and fix him and go back to my island."

That ability, however, is among the many luxuries Robinson and his team do not have, and given the state of the pitching staff -- which boasts nine men on the disabled list -- they must trot Armas out every fifth day and hope against hope that things change.

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