When Nationals shortstop Cristian Guzman missed 10 games because of a hamstring injury in early July, he did so with his batting average at .201 -- a significant accomplishment for the 27-year-old, who, even then, was in the throes of a miserable offensive season.
But when Guzman returned, his average plummeted, falling to .180 on July 28. But Guzman used a 3-for-4 night on Thursday against the Florida Marlins to -- finally, mercifully -- pull his average back up to .202, the first time he has been over .200 since the all-star break. Last night he went 1 for 3 with a run and an RBI to raise his average to .203. "Why do you ask me, 'Is he on his way now? Is he over the hump?' " Manager Frank Robinson said yesterday.
Robinson, though, knows the importance of the number. Asked if finishing the season above .200 would save Guzman from a certain stigma for the rest of his career, Robinson said: "That's exactly right. Everybody wants to finish off the season as well as they can.
"If he was hitting near .300, rather than .299, he'd rather be at .300. It has a different sound, a different ring to it."
Robinson recalled a teammate who, he said, sat out the last game of the season to protect his average at .1995, which rounds up to .200. Robinson wouldn't name the player, but it turns out it was Baltimore Orioles outfielder Curt Blefary. In 1968, Blefary was 90 for 451 with three games remaining, and he didn't play the rest of the way.
Robinson said he would take the same approach with Guzman with a game or two left.
"If he was at .1995," Robinson said, "I'd sit him."
Church Back in Action
The Nationals activated outfielder Ryan Church from the disabled list yesterday, and Church said he was completely recovered from the broken little toe he suffered Aug. 24 against Cincinnati. "The only problem is I couldn't sleep," he said, "because I want to play so bad."
But how much Church will play is in doubt. For now, Robinson said Church would be a pinch hitter, and may play against a right-hander. But with first baseman Nick Johnson close to returning from a bruised heel, Brad Wilkerson will move back to the outfield, making it even more crowded.