Slow Start Forces Moves and Confrontations

Jim Bowden isn't known for being patient.

Life as a Washington National isn't fun these days. From the team president down to the players, there is discontent and it's starting to show. The on-the-field performance has been bad and off-the-field, there are heated confrontations and other signs of problems.

"When you're boxed in, the way you improve is by releasing guys or making trades," said an openly agitated Jim Bowden. Ouch!

The moves started after Thursday's 13-4 loss to the Mets that dropped the Nationals to 2-8, the worst record in baseball. Brandon Watson and Wiki Gonzalez were sent down to New Orleans and Ryan Church and Brendan Harris were recalled to take their places. The moves leave Church and Marlon Byrd - both struggling at the plate this season - as a platoon in center field and utility man Matt LeCroy as the backup catcher. Initially, LeCroy was considered only an "emergency" option behind the plate, but that changes now.

Bowden and manager Frank Robinson also admitted that there could be other moves coming if the Nationals ship isn't righted - and quickly. With a six-game road trip to Florida and Philadelphia on the horizon, the Nationals could benefit from getting out of RFK Stadium. After all, the stadium itself has become a major point of contention.

On Wednesday, Jose Vidro mentioned that team management should have done something during the off-season to change the dimensions of the outfield fence. Players believe that the dimensions are marked wrong and are simply too big to make for a fair game. Last season, players questioned the distance to the power alleys that was marked as 380 feet. The club did a laser measurement that proved the players right and that the power alleys were actually more than 395 feet from home plate. The team then moved the 380 signs out of the alleys and closer to the lines. Vidro - and reportedly, other players - believe the club should have responded by moving the fences in during the off-season. Vidro complained publicly about the club's response on Wednesday, which led to he and team president Tony Taveras engaging in a heated confrontation before yesterday's game.

For his part, Taveras said that players never brought their concerns directly to the team and never asked to have the fences moved in. The fact that the Mets hit four homeruns in Thursday's series finale, didn't help Vidro's cause. "I saw four homeruns today. The other team didn't seem to have any problem," Taveras told The Washington Post during the game. Nick Johnson also homered during the game, giving the Nationals one homerun in each game of the series.

Vidro insists that he was speaking for a majority of the players and didn't back down from his earlier comments.

All of this leaves Robinson trying to pull his team out of their tailspin. Robinson believes that worrying about the stadium now won't do the players any good. In fact, he fears that it could become a mental block, hurting their chances in their own home park. Robinson believes that the moves the Nationals made after the game will make the club better and both he and Bowden challenged the players to take responsibility for their part in the team's dismal start. Bowden also reiterated that more moves will be made if things don't improve. "We've got to open ourselves up to the possibility of making moves," he told The Washington Post.

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