Notes: Robinson sticks with Vargas

Notes: Robinson sticks with Vargas

TORONTO -- Frank Robinson has been around baseball for almost 50 years as both a player and manager. With that type of experience, the skipper knows when to start sweating the small stuff. That time hasn't occurred yet with pitcher Claudio Vargas.

Vargas, who just turned 26 on Thursday, has labored over his last two starts, allowing 11 runs on 13 hits in just five innings of work. On Friday, Vargas was unable to get past the fourth inning, as Toronto lit him up for five runs and five hits in the frame. Vargas ended up pitching for the cycle, allowing a single, double, triple and home run in the inning that knocked him out.

Robinson, though, didn't fret about the ugly start, opting instead to get a good night's rest at the hotel following the game. But the skipper would like to eventually know what has been causing Vargas' recent problems.

"I thought about it a little bit, and I'm trying to figure out the what and why," Robinson said. "That's the thing; there's no real answer to it. You look at video to see if he's doing something different, like out of the stretch or his windup, and all you see is his pitches coming in too much over the plate."

Vargas sustained a right elbow sprain early in Spring Training that landed him on the disabled list until May 10. He went 2-2 with a 4.18 ERA in five rehab starts for New Orleans before making his season debut at Arizona on May 11. In the desert, Vargas pitched masterfully, going six innings and not allowing an earned run.

He has yet to duplicate that impressive performance, though. Instead, Vargas has put his team well behind the 8-ball before the game is half over.

"The table is set on this ballclub with starting pitching," Robinson said. "Our offense is not geared to score a lot of runs. It's not built to come back from big deficits. It's built to mainly play close ballgames. That's what is so disheartening as far as Claudio, because in the first couple of innings, he's pitched us out of ballgames."

Vargas is scheduled to pitch the final game of the upcoming three-game series against Cincinnati on Wednesday. For now, Robinson will give the youngster every opportunity to work out of his funk.

"Everybody is trying to win today, and this year," Robinson said. "Too much emphasis is put on winning. You have to teach and develop, even at this level. If you have the talent, you're going to win your share of ball games. That's why you have to stick with a guy like Vargas. You can't give him just one or two starts and then pull him out because then the guy is in a bad mental state. The next time he's out there, he gives up one or two quick runs, and he's looking over his shoulder and wondering when he's going to be taken out of the ballgame."

Offense sputtering: Heading into Sunday's series finale against the Blue Jays, the Nationals' offense had been offensive, scoring just seven runs in their last five games.

Part of the problem has been the inability to get the key hit after the club strings together a couple of knocks.

"Every man has to try to do a little bit, and not try to do it all," Robinson said.

Center fielder Brad Wilkerson agreed, saying that a hitting slump can sometimes grow into an unmanageable force.

"A lot of times when you're struggling you start pressing, and that's what we're doing right now," said Wilkerson, who is on the shelf for at least the immediate future with an injured forearm. "We just have to go up there and relax and battle each and every at-bat."

Jose Guillen, whom the Nationals rely on for the pop in their offense, knows that things aren't clicking on all cylinders, both at the plate and on the mound. But patience, Guillen said, is a virtue.

"I'm not hitting well, and some of the other guys aren't hitting well, and we're not pitching well, but what can you do?" said Guillen, who leads the team with eight home runs, of which five of them came in his first nine games. "You're going to go through those tough stretches where you're not going to hit and you're not going to pitch well, but one day we're going to come out and we're going to do well. It's part of the game."

Castilla lifted early: Third baseman Vinny Castilla was replaced in the third inning Sunday by Henry Blanco because of soreness in his left knee. Castilla struck out in the second, and didn't return.

Schneider sits: Reserve catcher Gary Bennett replaced Brian Schneider in Sunday's lineup. Robinson noted that Schneider's yanking was due more to his recent problems at the plate than giving his starting catcher the afternoon off.

Schneider is hitting just .048 (1-for-21) in his last seven games.

Patterson still battling pain: Righty John Patterson was expected to throw a side session Sunday in the hopes of getting back into the rotation later this week. Patterson is sidelined with back spasms, and hasn't started since garnering a no-decision in Washington's win over Chicago May 15.

Sign of the day: A couple of fans in attendance Sunday were wearing Montreal Expos caps while holding up a sign that read, "Montreal fans forever -- See you in a couple decades!"

Coming up: The Nationals continue their nine-game road trip Monday as they travel to Cincinnati to begin a three-game series with the Reds. Esteban Loaiza (1-2, 3.08 ERA) will get the start for Washington, while Cincinnati will counter with lefty Eric Milton (2-5, 7.16 ERA).

Bob Matuszak is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.