Frustrated Kearns Left Out of Lineup

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Never mind that he has just five RBI since June 1, and that his last home run came May 21 -- 38 games ago. Austin Kearns wasn't in the starting lineup for just the third time all year last night, a decision that didn't sit well with him.

"I've spent too much time on the DL in my career to be taking days off," Kearns said. "I always want to play."

Yet for a variety of reasons, Kearns hasn't played up to the standards both he and the Nationals set for him. Kearns has been billed as a player capable of driving in 100 runs, and he had 86 RBI in 150 games a year ago. This year, through his first 82 games, he has 27 RBI.

Kearns, who entered last night's game against the Chicago Cubs in the ninth inning, clearly is frustrated by his production.

"I'm my own worst critic, my own worst enemy," he said. "I'll be the first to tell you that. That's just how I am. Things bug me, and when you're not doing what you know you can, that's the worst part about this game. You don't feel like you're holding up your end, and it eats at you."

Manager Manny Acta believes that Kearns must start moving his hands earlier in his swing so that he's ready to drive the ball. Hitting coach Lenny Harris said "the problem is mostly mental," but agreed with Acta's assessment about Kearns's hands. Harris has Kearns working on a high tee in the batting cage to get him to follow through on his swing.

An Eye on Foreign Affairs

Though the international signing period opened this week -- meaning teenagers from foreign countries are eligible to be signed -- the Nationals haven't landed anyone. General Manager Jim Bowden believes, however, that the possibility of signing international players could put pressure on the team's top two draft picks -- pitchers Ross Detwiler and Josh Smoker -- to sign.

"If we decide to go forward and sign a couple of players that we've been negotiating with, it might affect our ability to sign our first two picks," Bowden said. "We might choose to spend the money on another key player of the same type talent."

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