At Mid-Season, Washington Nationals Manager Frank Robinson Takes Stock

By Carla K. Peay
Updated: July 8, 2005

Washington Nationals

Photo by John E. DeFreitas

“We can’t win them all, although sometimes it may seem that way”, said Nationals Manager Frank Robinson. The talk of baseball, the Washington Nationals remain in first place in the National League East, the tightest division in baseball, where only eight games separate the top team from the bottom.

Heading into their final series before the All-Star Break, the Nationals saw their five game lead over the Atlanta Braves dip to a 2.5 game lead, after losing their home series to the N.Y. Mets by dropping three of four contests. Ironically, the only game the Nationals managed to win was the game against one of baseball’s best pitchers, Pedro Martinez.

The Nationals lost the final game of the series on Thursday afternoon in a 3-2 heartbreaker in 11 innings, making this the first home series loss since the week of April 25-27, when they lost 2 of 3 to the Philadelphia Phillies. The Nationals also ended their streak of winning one-run games, having won the last 12 they played. Despite the series loss, Robinson remains optimistic about his team’s performance in the first half of the season.

“It’s big to have success and have a good feeling of momentum going into the break and feed off of that. Hopefully coming out of the break, we can get off to a good start”, said Robinson.

The Nationals head to Philadelphia on Friday for the start of a three-game series against the Phillies before the All-Star Break. Two Nationals were named to the All-Star Team, ace starting pitcher Livan Hernandez, who sports a 12-3 record, and closer Chad Cordero, whose 30 saves is the best in baseball. Cordero was also named pitcher of the month for June, during which he tied a Major League record for saves in a month with 15.

The Nationals also welcomed back three-time All-Star second baseman Jose Vidro, who has been out for two months with a high ankle sprain and a torn tendon.

“Evidently his legs are feeling pretty good. He’s thinking up there at the plate, he’s not just up there swinging and focused on getting a base hit by swinging the bat. That means he’s into the game, his mind is in game condition. He did like what he felt he could do to get things started to help the ballclub, and it was good to see”, said Robinson of Vidro, referring to an at-bat where Vidro laid down a perfect bunt. In addition to the return of Vidro, the team hopes to welcome back 1st baseman Nick Johnson, shortstop Christian Guzman, and outfielder Ryan Church after the All-Star break.

Robinson was also quick to praise his relief pitchers, a cast of solid, but occasionally overworked pitchers, who have been instrumental in the success of the Nationals, particularly in the myriad of one-run victories the team has become known for.

“The whole thing is a pleasant surprise out there”, said Robinson of his bullpen.

“Everybody has achieved much more than we thought they would the first half. Carrasco is probably the biggest surprise out there because I don’t think anyone really knew what he was going to be able to do. What Cordero has done has to be a surprise, a very pleasant surprise, although we felt like he could do the job, I don’t think anyone could have foreseen him reeling off 26 straight save opportunities and being perfect in June. Majewski has been just tremendous out there, and Eischen has been a real plus coming back, and Ayala has been Ayala. I have to give him a little bit more rest. I think if I can do that, he’ll be very effective in the second half of the season. And Kim has been good when I’ve used him”, added Robinson.

Left-hander Joey Eischen has recently returned from the disabled list, having been out with a broken arm, and Luis Ayala has racked up more innings pitched than anyone in the National League.

“I don’t know if what I’ve gotten here has surprised me. I think the successes that we’ve had in one-run games has been a very pleasant surprise. That speaks volumes for a ballclub. There is some luck involved here and there, but I think it speaks volumes that we have the bounce-back type thing, the hang-tough attitude that we need to win those ball games”, he added.

“Success breeds success, no matter how you do it. If we were just going out there running people off the field and outscoring them, we would feel very good. But we’re not doing that. We’re playing tough, close ball games and winning those ballgames.”

When asked about the playoff chase and the possibilities of winning the wildcard, Robinson made it very clear that that’s the last thing on his mind.

“We’re not concerned about the wildcard right now. We are in the driver’s seat right now. If we continue to win our ballgames, we can’t be caught. Our focus is winning a division title, and that’s what we’re out to do.”