Nationals Manager Frank Robinson said Sunday that he would stick with all-star closer Chad Cordero despite Cordero's September swoon, which culminated in allowing a game-tying grand slam in Saturday night's crushing 8-5, 12-inning loss to the San Diego Padres.

Robinson, who brought Cordero into a 5-1 game with two outs and runners on first and second, also said Cordero should continue to rely on his fastball, the pitch that has helped him save a major league-leading 46 games, but one that has betrayed him in September, when he has blown three of six save opportunities.

"We're into a season where a guy's saved 46 games," Robinson said. "All of a sudden he's going to invent a pitch the last week of the season? He has three pitches."

Two years ago, Cordero pitched in 40 games for Cal State-Fullerton, then in 31 more for the minor league Brevard County Manatees and the Montreal Expos. Last season with the Expos, he appeared in 69 games. Saturday night's appearance was his 72nd, and he said afterward that fatigue could be a factor in his recent breakdowns.

"That's no excuse," he said.

Cordero's change of fortune has been stunning. He didn't allow an earned run in August, when he converted all eight of his save opportunities and lowered his ERA to 0.94.

But in six September appearances, disaster. Beginning with a Sept. 3 outing against the Philadelphia Phillies in which blew a three-run, ninth-inning lead by giving up back-to-back homers to Ryan Howard and David Bell, Cordero has struggled. His ERA in September is 12.00. He has allowed more earned runs this month (eight) than he did the rest of the year (seven). And entering Sunday, only Jim Brower, who has pitched for San Francisco and Atlanta, has allowed more home runs in the National League as a reliever this season. Brower has given up 11, Cordero nine.

Robinson insisted that Cordero shouldn't mess with his repertoire. He said Cordero threw too many change-ups and sliders to the first hitter he faced Saturday, Mark Loretta, who walked.

"He's not Goose Gossage," Robinson said. "He's not [expletive] Billy Wagner. He is who he is.

"The kid is 23 years old. Twenty-three! He has a number one pitch, his fastball. It's been good enough until the second half of the season, basically, and he's blown a few saves. Now we want him to invent pitches? . . . If he's going to get beat, he's going to get beat with his best pitch."

Ayala to Test His Elbow

Right-handed reliever Luis Ayala will throw 20 pitches in a simulated game Monday at RFK Stadium to see if he's fully recovered from a bone spur in his right elbow. Ayala has pitched just once since Aug. 21, and in that appearance, he surrendered a 10th-inning, game-winning home run to Atlanta's Andruw Jones.

Ayala (8-7, 2.67 ERA) leads National League in wins as a reliever. If the simulated game goes well, he could return this week.