Notes: Castilla improves after injury

Notes: Castilla improves after injury

PHILADELPHIA -- Manager Frank Robinson admitted on Thursday that he was concerned about third baseman Vinny Castilla during Spring Training.

Before Castilla injured his left knee against the Mets on March 18, Robinson noticed that the right-handed hitter didn't have good bat speed during games or batting practice.

After Castilla came back from his injury, Robinson noticed that Castilla's bat speed returned. It helped that Castilla played in Minor League games and continued to take batting practice before games.

"That's what got him going. I could see the bat speed improve after he came back from the injury," Robinson said. "That helped him get ready and it carried over into the season.

Entering Thursday's action, Castilla was 6-for-8 (.750) with two RBIs.

"I didn't worry about Spring Training. I have Spring Training to get ready for the season," Castilla said. I just had to get my work in. I knew that I was ready. I had some good cuts when I went to Minor League camp. I hit the ball pretty good. When they turn the lights on, I'll be ready."

Playing time: Backup catcher Gary Bennett will not start his first game until April 13 against the Braves. Robinson told Bennett that he wants the Nationals pitchers in the rotation to throw to starter Brian Schneider twice.

"I just want Schneider back there to get these guys into a little groove and settle down. I want them to be comfortable with him," Robinson said. "I want Gary to know what my thinking was so he is not sitting there asking why. He was OK with it."

In the lineup: Robinson inserted first baseman Wil Cordero and outfielder J.J. Davis into the starting lineup against left-hander Randy Wolf on Thursday. Before the game, Robinson said they would play against most left-handers. Robinson also said he has to find a way to give Tony Blanco some at-bats.

However, Cordero most likely will not see time on the field any time soon after injuring his left knee running the bases against the Phillies on Thurdsday.

What a difference a year makes: In 2004, the Expos couldn't buy a base hit, having been shut out six times during the month of April. After two games, the Nationals have collected 29 hits and have scored 11 runs, which hasn't surprised interim general manager Jim Bowden.

"We may not have a lot of big guys that could carry a club for a long period of time, but all eight guys are tough outs. An opposing pitcher doesn't look at our guys and say they can get them out," Bowden said.

One man's opinion: Wednesday's game against Phillies featured Brad Wilkerson hitting for the cycle and Jose Guillen slugging the game-winning home run. But Bowden's highlight occurred in the bottom of the fifth inning when right-hander Zach Day threw three ground-ball outs. For the first out, first baseman Nick Johnson dove to his right and then threw to Day to get Chase Utley for the first out of the inning.

Castilla then made a diving play to his left and managed to throw out Mike Lieberthal for the second out of the inning. Phillies right-hander Brett Myers grounded out to shortstop Cristian Guzman for the third out of the inning.

"We have three infielders with serious range. They got to balls that most other players don't get to," Bowden said. "With most infields, that's first and third and nobody out instead of two outs and nobody on. That makes a big difference trying to win one-run games. That was my favorite part of the game."

Stat of the day: Entering Thursday's action, Wilkerson has hit 73 career home runs and 12 of them have come against the Phillies.

Did you know: While the Nationals waited just two games to record a cycle, the Padres have gone without a cycle for 36-plus seasons.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.