Guzman's Injury Likely Ends Season

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 26, 2007

ATLANTA, June 25 -- When Washington Nationals shortstop Cristian Guzman smacked a tag on the helmet of Cleveland's Josh Barfield in the fifth inning of a game Sunday, none of the 26,413 at RFK Stadium could have known that it was among the last plays Guzman would make this season. Guzman returned to the field, had two more at-bats, and even dressed for the team's ensuing trip in a suit and tie.

But before Guzman could leave the park, he was placed on the disabled list. Monday afternoon, he had surgery to repair ligaments in his left thumb. Thus came a devastating end to a season that had been filled with promise for a player who, two years ago, was booed lustily in his home park.

The official prognosis after Guzman's surgery, performed by Richard Barth at Sibley Memorial Hospital in the District, is that he will be out 10 weeks, which leaves a sliver of possibility for a return in September. But club officials are treating it as a season-ending injury, and the lineup Monday against the Atlanta Braves likely looked as it will for the foreseeable future -- with Felipe Lopez moving back to shortstop from second base and Ronnie Belliard taking over at second.

"It's so unfortunate for him," Lopez said. "He was having a great season. It's got to be frustrating for him."

Given the circumstances of Guzman's past in Washington -- a four-year, $16.8-million contract signed after the 2004 season, a 2005 in which he struggled to hit .219, and a 2006 lost to shoulder surgery -- it is perhaps even more frustrating. Though he missed five weeks with a strained hamstring, he was hitting .329 and was, surprisingly, one of the National League's most productive shortstops.

Guzman stayed in the game even after the play -- a play on which Guzman's tag was applied in time to catch Barfield stealing -- and had two more at-bats, perhaps trying to stave off the injury. Manager Manny Acta said he looked at the thumb later in the game and "it didn't look right."

Those who were with Guzman when he received the news that he would have to go on the disabled list Sunday night said the shortstop was so distraught over the injury that he tried to convince team officials surgery was out of the question.

"He was torn and emotionally destroyed, basically, because he had two rough seasons over here and finally he's playing great and being a big part of this team," Acta said. "That was the first thing out of his mouth. He said: 'I want to play through this. I don't want to do any more time on the DL.' We had to convince him: 'It's not about you being able to play. You're not going to be able to play.' "

Said team president Stan Kasten: "Whenever there's bad news, people's first reaction is denial. And Cristian was in denial -- big-time. He didn't want to hear about any diagnosis."

The injury left the Nationals without their leadoff hitter, and outfielder Brandon Watson took over that spot Monday. Lopez, who entered play Monday with an on-base percentage of .285 -- .277 when he hits leadoff -- said switching back to shortstop, where he has played most of his career, is "what I have to do."

And he pledged his offense would improve.

"I'm going to finish good," Lopez said. "I know I am."

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