Notes: Wilkerson in the mix

Nationals notes: Wilkerson in the mix

DENVER -- Same story, different day. That was the word from the Washington clubhouse on Saturday as center fielder Brad Wilkerson was out of the lineup for the second consecutive day.

The interpretation of that story varied dramatically, however, depending on where you stood and who you talked to as the Nationals prepared for their second game in Colorado.

The immediate catalyst for concern comes from Wilkerson's status as being a bit "banged up," as manager Frank Robinson put it. Most notably, Wilkerson has had recurring soreness in his left shoulder.

The piece of the puzzle that all parties agree on is that Wilkerson felt the same Saturday as he did Friday. To Wilkerson, that meant he was good to go.

"I feel the same," Wilkerson confirmed. "I'm ready to go. It's the manager's decision, if he wants to keep me out. They didn't ask me yesterday, so they didn't know. Today they came and asked me, and I said I'm the same as yesterday."

Robinson and bench coach Eddie Rodriguez, however, took Wilkerson's unchanged status to mean that he remained unavailable to start against the Rockies.

"He didn't play yesterday, so obviously it'd be the same way," said Rodriguez. "Give him another day and continue to get treatments. We're just being careful."

A hint of controversy stemmed from the fact that Wilkerson's name was originally at the top of the lineup for Saturday's game, apparently by accident, as Robinson confirmed that based on Rodriguez's conversation with Wilkerson, he had given the outfielder a night off.

"If he came in and said he could play, he'd play," Robinson added. "Hopefully, he'll feel much better tomorrow and walk in the clubhouse and say he can play."

Ironically, Wilkerson may disagree with Robinson's optimistic prognosis for playing on Sunday, noting that the limited preparation before the Sunday's afternoon starting time would lower his chances of feeling like his shoulder was up to speed.

"Once I get out there and get it loose, it doesn't bother me throughout the game," Wilkerson explained. "If I'm not going to play, I'm not going to play [Sunday] because we're not going to take BP and I won't have a chance to get it loose. If we can get out there and I get moving around and get to get it loose, I feel fine."

Though he has started 107 of the team's first 115 games, including 95 in the outfield, Wilkerson is part of a crowded field of five outfielders, each feeling that he can make the team better by being in the starting lineup.

Jose Guillen's spot in right field is secure, thanks largely to his .297 average, 20 home runs and 61 RBIs in 106 games. And Ryan Church continues to make noise with a matching .297 average, seven homers and 33 RBIs in 79 games.

Preston Wilson has been a virtual lock in the lineup as well, starting 24 of 27 games since coming to the Nats in an All-Star break trade. Wilson has not yet been the consistent run producer the Nats needed, however, hitting just .216 since the trade, and prompting Robinson to agree that "the numbers speak for themselves" in assessing Wilson's less than productive performance.

"We traded for him for a reason," Robinson said Saturday. "We felt like his bat would make us a better ball club. We're not going to give up on him after a month."

And then there is rookie Brandon Watson, who homered in his Major League debut Tuesday. He took Wilkerson's spot atop the lineup Saturday, and Robinson sees promise in the 23-year-old.

"Other than [a .154 average through three games], he's showing what you want to see out of a leadoff hitter," Robinson said, noting his patience at the plate and his aggressiveness on the base paths. "He's going to hit."

With Watson getting starts in four of his first five days with the club, Robinson understands that there could be grumblings from the other outfielders, who expect more playing time after being with the club all season.

"That's not always the way it works," Robinson said. "It's a delicate situation, and I handle it that way. Whichever way I go, I'll hurt somebody's feelings."

As for Wilkerson, though he has a respectable .254 average with eight homers and 44 RBIs, Robinson admitted that the 28-year-old has shown a tendency toward stagnation.

"He's kind of stayed in place," Robinson observed. "He hasn't taken another step. It may take him another year to take that step.

"It doesn't take that much to go from .265 to .285," Robinson pointed out. "One hit a week. It's not easy to do, but it's not that big a jump in your performance. A walk here and there, and you're 1-for-3 instead of 1-for-4."

But if Wilkerson was a grumbler, he showed no signs of it Saturday, as he took to the bench for the second game in a row.

"We're trying to win the division or Wild Card playoff berth any way we can," Wilkerson said of the situation his manager faces in divvying up the outfield playing time. "The bottom line is you have to put the best team out there. That's what, hopefully, he's doing."

Two left arms: The addition of Mike Stanton to the bullpen has given the Nationals the chance to come at the opposition with a case of déjà vu when it comes to left-handed specialists.

Signed as a free agent on July 13, Stanton has posted a 1.42 ERA in 11 games, and he has retired 65 percent of the first batters he's faced while allowing just 17 percent of his inherited runners to score.

Fellow southpaw Joe Eischen owns a 4.26 ERA in 32 games out of the Nationals bullpen, retiring 60 percent of the first batters he's faced while letting 20 percent of his inherited runners score.

Though Stanton's numbers -- and his three World Series rings -- may appear to give him an edge when a lefty is needed from the bullpen, Robinson sees the two as essentially interchangeable.

"When I saw Stanton, he was at the top of his game," Robinson said. "With the Yankees when they were putting championship clubs together, he was outstanding. Right now, he doesn't stand head and shoulders above Eischen."

Instead, Robinson said the decision on which lefty would get the call would be more a matter of who is at the plate and what kind of pitches and approaches are going to "bother" him the most. At times, Eischen's "herky-jerky" delivery, as Robinson calls it, could be the most effective weapon against an opposing lefty, while other batters may be hard-pressed to handle Stanton's "smoother" delivery.

On deck: John Patterson (6-3, 2.52 ERA) takes the hill in Colorado on Sunday, facing Jose Acevedo of the Rockies. Patterson has been untouchable at RFK this season, and his career numbers at Coors Field (1-1, 4.40 ERA in four games) are nothing to sneeze at.

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