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Nationals Hamstrung By Loss Of Terrmel Sledge In 2005

[November 14th] -- Terrmel Sledge could have made such a difference for the Nationals in 2005. Coming off a superb rookie year, manager Frank Robinson had him in the opening day lineup with every intention of his remaining there all year.

It didn't happen.

Sledge tore his hamstring while running across Dodger Stadium's outfield grass trying to track down a ball hit into the gap. It was initially thought that surgery wouldn't be necessary, but doctors had been overly optimistic in that regard. Within a month, he had both his hamstring as well as his non-throwing shoulder repaired, side-lining him for the rest of the year. Although Sledge is expected to rejoin the Nationals fully recovered, he more than likely won't be available until after the beginning of the 2006 season.

Nationals manager Frank Robinson says that Terrmel Sledge is a "throwback" player, someone more likely to be part of Joe DiMaggio's generation than Milton Bradley's. "I love the way the kid deals with adversity," began the hall of fame manager. "He's a very special person. He is one of the very few players today that is a student of the game. He listens. He seeks advice. He observes and makes adjustments. That just doesn't happen much anymore." Tommy John echoed Robinson's sentiments. "He's one of the organizations bright young players" John said in 2003. "He's as heady and determined as as any player you're likely to find on the diamond today." Sledge graduated from Long Beach State in 1999, and was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 8th round of the amateur draft. He was traded to the Expos/Nationals the following year for catcher Chris Widger. He spent the next five years rising slowly through the team's minor league system, arriving in Montreal in 2004 with a career .308 battomg average. After starting the 2004 season 1 - 36, Sledge batted .285 the rest of the way, finishing the year .269-15-62 . He was batting .248 for the Nationals this season when he was lost for the year.

Sledge understands his limitations. "I'm not a big guy"he told ESPN, "but I have a little sock in me. I'm more of a doubles guy, but I do have enough power to hit a few out of the park when I need to." He is a contact hitter who seldom strikes out. Sledge has a career 6.6 at-bat per strikeout mark. Compare that to Brad Wilkerson, who strikes out once per 3.8 at bats. Sledge is "quick" but not fast. He's not going to steal bases but neither will he be a hindrance on the base paths. His arm is average but he's adept at positioning himself to compensate for that deficiency.

Assuming a 500 at-bat season in the big leagues, his numbers would look like this based on past history: at-bats: 500 -- runs:60 -- hits: 135 -- 2b:25 -- 3b:10 -- hr:21 -- rbi:87 -- ave:.267 -- OBP:.340 -- SLG:.455

Sledge is at his best when he drives the ball between the gaps. When he tries to pull the ball, however, he ends up going 1-36 like he did to begin the 2004 season. He hits best with runners in scoring position. Most scouts believe Sledge is most valuable as a 4th outfielder.

The hamstring injury still concerns many within the Nationals organization. Team general manager Jim Bowden remembers how a hamstring injury sidetracked Ken Griffey for more than three years. "I couldn't sleep the night Terrmel was hurt" said Bowden. "I prayed all night for him. It's the worse hamstring injury I have ever seen, and that includes the one that took Ken Griffey down when I was still with the Reds."

If he returns to form, he will push Ryan Church for one of the team's outfield positions. He and Church mirror each other's ability and talent. Playing full time, both can produce .280-20-80 type seasons. Both are lefties. If Sledge is able to play every day, one of them needs to be traded for pitching. Although I like Church's ability, I love Sledge's makeup and maturity. He's 29 and can assume a position of team leadership. He reminds me of Ken Griffey Sr. Griffey played in the 1970's and 1980's with the Reds and Yankees. Like Griffey, Sledge's intelligence and desire dwarfs his ability. Having Ken Griffey Sr. on the team was like having a second manager on the team.

Every team needs a player like that. Few teams do. The Nationals have one. His name is Terrmel Sledge.


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