Inside Pitch: Looking Ahead

Inside Pitch: Looking Ahead

With the Mets running away with the NL East title, the Nationals are going to have to set modest goals coming out of the All-Star break. For starters, manager Frank Robinson would like his 38-52 club to break even in the win and loss columns.

"What I've been trying to do is focus on getting us to .500," Robinson said. "It's a tough task to get there."

The Nationals came close last month, winning 17 of 24 to get within four games of the break-even mark. But they've stumbled since then, and they can't seem to get a consistent streak going.

That said, Washington remains only nine games back in the NL wild-card race, and though there are a host of teams ahead of them in the standings, the Nationals believe they could make some noise if they come out of the All-Star break playing well.

"I think we can get within striking distance," Robinson said.

NATS' NOTES

  • OF Jose Guillen is determined to come back strong after the All-Star break, hoping to put his dismal first half behind him for good. "For the first half, I just want to forget everything that happened and start all over again," said Guillen, whose batting average has been stuck around .210 for most of the season. "That's my main goal. Just start fresh, start carrying this team like I was last year. It's going to be a totally different Jose Guillen."
  • President Bush attended Saturday's game against the Padres, joined in the owner's box by first lady Laura Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. It was the third time Bush has come to a game at RFK Stadium, the first this season. The Nationals went 2-0 in 2005 with Bush in attendance; they lost 5-2 Saturday.
  • RHP Ryan Drese threw 40 pitches in a simulated game Saturday at RFK Stadium, his first since going on the disabled list in April with a sprained right elbow. Drese threw all of his pitches and experienced no pain or setbacks, but the Nationals haven't decided when he'll start a minor league rehab assignment.
  • RHP Livan Hernandez will have his first start of the second half pushed back two days, until July 16 at Pittsburgh. Hernandez had been scheduled to pitch Friday's second-half opener, but he's been bothered by a sore right knee and wants to give himself a longer break before returning to the mound. "It's not a big deal. I get two more days off," Hernandez said. "I can rest the knee a couple of days." RHP Ramon Ortiz will start Friday against the Pirates, with RHP Pedro Astacio following him Saturday.
  • RHP Pedro Astacio, who was solid in his season debut last week, struggled in his second start Saturday against the Padres. Astacio, who missed the first three months of the season with a right forearm strain, gave up five runs and nine hits in 3 2/3 innings and was tagged for three homers. Astacio is scheduled to start the Nationals' second game coming out of the All-Star break, but if he continues to struggle, he could find himself dropped from the rotation eventually.
  • RHP John Patterson, who left his June 29 start in the fourth inning with a "dead arm," was out after one inning Sunday with more forearm trouble. He allowed three hits and a walk but escaped with only one run scoring. Manager Frank Robinson said Patterson would be shut down until the problem is solved.
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