Nats Get Little Back On Returns

Matt Chico
Matt Chico reacts after giving up a three-run homer to the Brewers' Geoff Jenkins. (Allen Fredrickson - Reuters)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 8, 2007

MILWAUKEE, May 7 -- They are being hailed not so much as saviors, but perhaps, if the Washington Nationals are lucky, as stabilizers. Nook Logan has never driven in more than 17 runs in a major league season, and in fact was jettisoned by the Detroit Tigers last year. Cristian Guzman's last extended appearance in the majors came in 2005, when he was so horrid that Washington fans almost relished having someone to boo -- a luxury not experienced in the District since 1971, when baseball left town.

But when you are the Nationals, these are the types of players you welcome back, arms wide open, because any change could be seen as an improvement. So beginning with Monday night's 3-0 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, Guzman was back at shortstop, Logan in center field, both returning from injuries suffered on Opening Day, both offering what -- in the bizarre world of the Nationals, who have now lost six straight -- amounts to a glimmer of hope.

The reality: The pair combined to go 1 for 7, and Guzman made an error. In short, they fit right in.

"Instead of sitting back letting things happen, I was trying to make things happen," Logan said. "Tomorrow, hopefully I'll be settled in, got one game under my belt. . . . I was swinging the bat decent when I was rehabbing or whatever. I wanted to bring it here as quickly as possible, but it don't work that way."

There were some familiar themes in this loss, the same struggles offensively that are threatening to overtake this entire season. On Monday, it was Brewers left-hander Chris Capuano completely baffling the Nationals, taking a shutout into the ninth, out-pitching Washington rookie Matt Chico, whose only mistake became a three-run homer to Geoff Jenkins in the second. Capuano improved to 5-0 with a 2.31 ERA, walking none and striking out nine.

"He owns me," said Felipe Lopez, the man who moved back to second base with Guzman's return. "I mean, he's good. There is absolutely nothing else I can say. Man, he's good."

Washington, which has established itself as the least productive offensive team in baseball, brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth, but Francisco Cordero closed it for the Brewers, who maintained the best record in baseball by beating the club with the worst. The Nationals' total output over the last nine games: 18 runs, a span in which they have endured three shutouts.

"It's frustrating," left fielder Ryan Church said. "But we just got to keep plugging away. It's going to happen."

If that's so, the new additions to the lineup will have to contribute.

Guzman had played in only one major league game since 2005, the season opener in Washington against the Florida Marlins. He hit .219 in his first season with the Nationals after signing a four-year, $16.8 million contract that has been widely ridiculed, so much so that when Guzman missed all of 2006 with a torn labrum in his right shoulder, the jokes came that it was an improvement over his 2005.

With Guzman back from his strained left hamstring, Manager Manny Acta stuck him in the second spot in the order. He will stay there.

"I'm going to give him a shot," Acta said. "That doesn't mean that in two, three months, he'll be there if he doesn't do what we want him to do or if I find somebody that is better-suited for it. But yeah, we made up our mind way before [spring training] he was going to do it."

Guzman said his goals were clear. He spoke often this spring about how he wanted to show fans in Washington that he is not the player they saw in 2005, and he understands there is only one way to do that.

"I feel like I don't want to be hurt no more," Guzman said. "I don't want to go back. I know I'm out for a long time. I want to be [healthy] from today to all my career."

So here is how Guzman began his return to the majors: He swung at the first pitch he saw. That approach also yielded a single in his second at-bat. "That's him," Acta said. But does Acta think the approach will work?

"We'll see," Acta said. "Obviously, if the approach doesn't work, then we'll change our ways."

In the seventh, with Chico en route to completing the longest outing of his brief career, Guzman booted a grounder from Rickie Weeks. Logan's night was less eventful, save for a near collision in the first inning with right fielder Austin Kearns, one in which Kearns slid to catch a fly ball off the bat of Weeks, Logan deftly jumping out of the way.

Thus, Guzman and Logan are back. Now, the process of determining whether they make the Nationals a better team begins.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company