By Staci Wolfson
For the first time since the Nationals arrived in Washington, D.C., the Orioles will face their new regional rivals in a regular season game. Each trying to climb out of fourth place in their respective divisions, the teams will face off beginning tonight at RFK Stadium.
Coming off a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs, the Nationals will send rookie left-hander Michael O’Connor to the mound for his fifth start. Leading the Nats’ starting pitchers with a .667 winning percentage, O’Connor is 2-1 with a 2.86 ERA. He will face right-hander Kris Benson who has arguably been the Orioles’ most consistent starter with a 5-3 record and a 4.38 ERA.
Saturday’s game will feature veteran Tony Armas Jr. (4-2) against the Orioles’ Opening Day starter, Rodrigo Lopez (1-6), who will try to lower his 7.86 ERA and redeem himself for his rough start to the season. The struggling Bruce Chen (0-4) will start for the Orioles in the series finale challenging the Nats’ number-one starter, Livan Hernandez (1-5) who, like Chen, has had a disappointing start following a solid 2005 season.
Manager Frank Robinson’s Nationals are attempting to improve their 14-27 record, but their offense remains stale with a team .251 batting average, 13th in the National League. Nats fans can look toward second baseman Jose Vidro for hope; the switch hitter’s .326 batting average is eighth in the National League. Disgruntled outfielder Alfonso Soriano is not far behind, accounting for 47 of Washington’s hits and a team-leading 26 RBIs.
Though the Orioles’ .270 collective batting average is not much higher than their opponents’ batting average, the team ranks sixth in the Major League with 382 hits and seventh with 210 runs. After a sharp drop in his offensive production following an injured hamstring, shortstop Miguel Tejada’s bat has warmed up, taking him to second in the American League with a .356 batting average.
Returning this week from the disabled list, Orioles fans can watch out for the recovery of battered starters Brian Roberts and Javy Lopez. With the offense suffering from a second-string lineup, manager Sam Perlozzo will be welcoming the return of his switch-hitting leadoff man and his designated hitter who has had eight hits in five games since returning to the active roster.
The Nationals have a 3-10 record at home while the Orioles have a 5-10 record on the road.
Posted May 19, 2006