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In a Pinch, Nothing But Pain

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 2, 2007

SAN DIEGO, May 1 -- Of all the statistical categories in which the Washington Nationals are at or near the bottom of the National League rankings -- batting average, runs, bullpen ERA, etc. -- one has been largely overlooked. The Nationals are 3 for 44 in pinch-hit situations, an .068 average that is last in the NL.

"It's a very tough job," Manager Manny Acta said.

The Nationals -- whose pitchers are 5 for 47 -- are ill-equipped to send up quality, experienced pinch hitters. Robert Fick is the club's "go-to guy," as Acta said, and he is just 1 for 7 as a pinch hitter. Other players -- such as Jesus Flores and Josh Wilson -- haven't been major league bench players before. The man the Nationals thought was best-suited to the task was D'Angelo Jimenez, but he went 0 for 12 and was designated for assignment.

"We need to get Robert going," Acta said. "As up to now, he hasn't performed the way we know he can."

Fick said cold weather is particularly hard on bench players, but "I'm not going to make any excuses. I don't think my timing is there."

Guzman Will Return as Shortstop

Acta indicated that the bench could improve instantly when shortstop Cristian Guzman returns from his strained hamstring, perhaps Monday in Milwaukee. In his strongest words on the subject yet, Acta said he would put Guzman at short, thus moving Felipe Lopez to second and putting Ronnie Belliard in a reserve role.

"We have to remember we have Guzman for two more years," Acta said, a reference to his contract, which runs through 2008. "Guzman is ours. And we need to fix him."

Guzman played nine innings in an extended spring training game Tuesday in Viera, Fla. He will have Wednesday off, then play back-to-back days for nine innings. . . .

Ryan Church said he didn't mean anything when he spiked his bat after getting hit by a Jake Peavy pitch in Monday's 3-2 victory. "It had nothing to do with being [upset] at him," he said. "It's just that it hurt."

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