Brad Wilkerson, in the past, has basically been able to dictate when he plays. Jose Guillen, too, decides whether he is healthy enough or not. Preston Wilson was acquired in a trade to help the offense. Ryan Church once looked like a rookie-of-the-year candidate. Brandon Watson was promoted from Class AAA New Orleans to provide a spark.

They are the five Nationals' outfielders, and at an essential point in the season, they are fighting for three spots as if it's spring training. Saturday night against Colorado, Manager Frank Robinson sat Wilkerson, who leads the team with 109 games played, for the second straight night, even though Wilkerson said he could play.

"It's a delicate situation, and I handle it that way," Robinson said. "Whichever way I'm going to go, I'm going to be the bad guy, and I'm going to hurt somebody's feelings, and they're going to be upset with me."

Robinson typically dispatches bench coach Eddie Rodriguez to check with banged-up players to see if they can go. Wilkerson's left shoulder has bothered him for six weeks, and he said he needs to take extra time to get it loose.

"I think I'm ready to go," said Wilkerson, who is hitting .254 and has 116 strikeouts, second in the National League. "I just think it's the manager's decision. He wants to keep me out."

Statistically, Wilson would seem to be the man who would be left out. Since arriving in a trade with Colorado on July 13, he has struck out 33 times in 92 at-bats, and is hitting .251. Though Robinson earlier in the week hinted Watson would take Wilson's place, he didn't sound inclined to make that move Saturday.

"You're going to get a guy, and in less than a month, you're going to give up on him?" Robinson said, though he conceded that Wilson hasn't made the offense better. "The numbers speak for themselves."

Robinson said he may sit down with each outfielder and tell them what he expects in the next few days. Church, who has only 13 at-bats in August, is the odd man out.

"We're in a spot where you need to put the best team out there," Wilkerson said. "Whether he thinks it's another person or not, that's the bottom line."