Robinson invited to throw first pitch for playoff game
First manager in team history led Nats to 81-81 record in inaugural season
WASHINGTON -- The Nationals have asked Hall of Famer Frank Robinson to throw out the first pitch before the third or fourth game of the National League Division Series, according to Robinson. The two sides have yet to confirm a date.
"If they firm it up, I will [throw out the first pitch]," Robinson said via telephone. "It's an honor for me. I appreciate them reaching out to me and asking me to do that. ... I feel very honored and gracious."
Robinson was the Nationals' first manager, guiding them to a combined 152-172 record in 2005 and '06. Their best season was in '05, when they went 81-81. Robinson also managed the Expos from '02-04. Montreal had a record above .500 in two of those three years.
Of the players that Robinson managed in 2005 and '06, only third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and shortstop Ian Desmond are still on the roster and will play in the postseason for Washington. Robinson sounds like a happy father who gave them their first start in the big leagues. In fact, Desmond wears No. 20 in honor of the Baseball Hall of Famer.
Desmond is having the best season of his career, hitting .292 with 25 home runs and 73 RBIs, and Robinson is surprised by Desmond's production. When Robinson managed Desmond during Spring Training in '05, Desmond had a reputation of being a good fielding, poor hitting shortstop.
"Desmond is a big surprise to me," Robinson said. "He wasn't supposed to hit. The first camp that he was in, everybody's eyes were on his glove. The next year everybody was saying, who is this guy, he can't catch anything. Then he disappeared. I thought he was out of baseball. Then all of a sudden, I look up and he is in the big leagues.
"He just gets better each year. He is a very special player right now. I'm very surprised by his homers, and I'm very surprised by his batting average. No one who has seen this kid felt he would hit .300. No way. I'm really happy for him. That shows consistency. When you hit for a high batting average, that shows consistency. It shows he is a solid hitter. That way, each time you come to the plate, you have a chance to help your team win a ballgame."
Zimmerman is a different story, as he was expected to produce right away for the Nationals. In his first big league season under Robinson in 2006, Zimmerman was one of Washington's best players, hitting .287 and driving in a team-leading 110 runs.
Zimmerman is still a consistent player for the Nationals today. Entering Monday's action, he is hitting .284 with 24 home runs and 94 RBIs.
"He is an outstanding hitter [and] RBI guy," Robinson said. "Home runs, average, big base hits."
But Robinson is concerned about Zimmerman's arm, as it's well known that Zimmerman has had four cortisone shots this year.
"I don't know what's wrong, but there has got to be something wrong," Robinson said. "He doesn't throw like that. He is a better thrower. His arm is much better than it is right now. I really feel bad about that because he would be one of the elite third basemen in the league if his throwing had been better. He is still pretty good right now."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.