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Robinson makes most of surprise relief appearance

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Robinson makes most of surprise relief appearance

PHOENIX — There had been 1,651 games in Nationals history over the last decade, far too many of them blowout losses, especially during some of the lean, early years of the franchise's existence in the District. But it wasn't until Game No. 1,652 that the situation became so dire as to require the services of a position player taking the mound to pitch.

And when it finally happened in the eighth inning of Tuesday night's 14-6 loss to the Diamondbacks, the man who was given the ball for a surprise relief appearance was one few would have ever predicted would be the first to perform such a feat: Clint Robinson.

"It's never something you want to do," manager Matt Williams said. "But sometimes in games like this, we just can't stretch our bullpen any further."

So it was that Robinson, the 30-year-old rookie first baseman/left fielder, found himself taking the mound at Chase Field to pitch the bottom of the eighth inning in a real, live, major-league ballgame. And then all he did was toss a scoreless frame, retiring three of the four batters he faced and notching a strikeout in the process.

How exactly did Robinson become the choice for this particular duty? Well, he did pitch in high school in Dothan, Ala., way back in 2003. And he (along with fellow bench player Tyler Moore) had let the coaching staff know previously he could do it if needed some day. So with the Nationals getting shellacked Tuesday night, three relievers having already pitched and others needed to be saved for the rest of this road trip, Williams approached both Robinson and Moore in the dugout and asked if either wanted to pitch.

"Yeah, I'll do it," Robinson replied. "Absolutely."

"OK," Williams informed him. "You got the eighth inning."

Robinson's first career inning got off to a shaky start — he allowed a base hit to David Peralta on an 80-mph fastball — but he quickly found his groove. Robinson proceeded to retire the next three batters, including veteran second baseman Aaron Hill via strikeout, prompting the Nationals dugout to shout for the ball to be tossed their way to be authenticated and presented to Robinson for display on his mantel.

He wound up throwing seven of his nine pitches for strikes, featuring a fastball that sat at 80-82 mph and a slider that registered between 72-74 mph. Those radar gun readings were down considerably from the last time he pitched as a high school senior, when he said he regularly threw in the low-90s.

"I threw quite a bit harder," he said. "I'm kind of a big guy and had a decent arm. But you take 12 years off from pitching, I didn't really expect it to be there."

Robinson had no idea he was the first position player in Nationals history to pitch. In fact, the Expos/Nationals franchise hadn't put a position player on the mound since July 20, 1990, when both Junior Noboa and Dave Martinez appeared during a 12-6 loss at Houston.

Plenty of Nationals over the last decade had desperately wanted to make their pitching debuts, with Adam Dunn, Adam LaRoche and Bryce Harper at the top of the list. Previous managers, though, either were opposed to the idea or never found themselves quite desperate enough to go through with it.

When it finally happened Tuesday, nobody exactly knew how to react. Catcher Wilson Ramos had no idea what was in Robinson's repertoire until the two met at the mound at the start of the inning.

"He just told me: 'Fastball, slider. That's it,'" Ramos said. "I called it. He never shook me off."

Robinson took everything in stride, trying to downplay the significance of this given the way the team struggled throughout Tuesday's game.

"To be honest with you, to me it's not really that big a deal," he said. "It's just one game. I was just helping out. It's cool to think about now, but I was just kind of in the moment, in the zone. I don't really want that attention when we're losing a game like that."

Robinson did emerge from the experience with an appreciation for the physical toll pitching in the big leagues takes.

"I'm sure I won't be feeling too hot tomorrow," he said. "I have a new respect for what those guys go out there and do. I've got little sores in my body that I usually don't have after a game."

Robinson also emerged with a souvenir ball and a great story to tell his grandkids some day.

"Yeah, it's something I never thought I would do," he said. "Just last year I was in L.A. wondering if I'm ever going to get my first big-league hit. And now I've got my first major-league strikeout. So it's just checking off another thing on the baseball bucket list for me."


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May the odds be ever in your favor: Vegas sets over/unders for 2018 MLB season

May the odds be ever in your favor: Vegas sets over/unders for 2018 MLB season

The start of spring training is a glimmer of hope during the cold of winter. It means warm weather, cold beers and hot dogs at the ballpark are coming your way.

It's our first chance to get a taste of how our favorite team is shaping up for the 2018 season, and for those who are not quite into just the game itself, betting odds.

CG Technology, a Las Vegas sportsbook operator, has set the 2018 odds for each MLB team.

Specifically, how are things looking for the local teams?

RELATED: 2018 SPRING TRAINING REPORT DATES

Washington Nationals: 91 1/2 wins

The 2018 season is looked at by many as the last World Series run for some time for the Nationals and their core group of players. Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Gio Gonzalez will become free agents after the 2018 season in addition to general manager and President of Baseball Operations, Mike Rizzo.

In 2017, the team won 97 games and went on to win the NL East, but couldn't make it past the first-round of the National League Division Series. In 2018, Vegas is giving the Nats 7/2 odds of taking the National League title. They are just behind the Chicago Cubs, who knocked them out of contention last season, at 4/1 odds.

As far as winning the World Series, Vegas is giving the guys an 8/1 chance of their first title, tied with the Cubs.

Baltimore Orioles: 77 1/2 wins

The O's finished the 2017 season with 75 wins, which could be considered somewhat of an accomplishment considering their pitching resources.

The same problem will occur in 2018 as the organization hasn't signed any new starting pitchers. Vegas is giving them 50/1 odds of taking the American League title and 100/1 odds of winning the World Series.

The lack of depth in their rotation will come back to bite them as division rival New York Yankees have 5/1 odds of winning the World Series and the Red Sox have 10/1 odds.

A below average season should be expected.

A few other standouts, good and bad, include the Miami Marlins at 500/1 odds of winning the World Series, the Kansas City Royals at 200/1 and current champions, the Houston Astros, at 6/1 odds.

RELATED: FORMER NATS PITCHER ARRESTED WITH MORE THAN 40 POUNDS OF SUSPECTED COCAINE

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Former Nationals pitcher Esteban Loaiza arrested with more than 40 pounds of suspected cocaine

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Former Nationals pitcher Esteban Loaiza arrested with more than 40 pounds of suspected cocaine

SAN DIEGO — Former All-Star pitcher Esteban Loaiza has been arrested on suspicion of trafficking drugs after packages containing a white powder believed to be cocaine were found at a home he rented in Southern California, officials said Monday.

The 46-year-old former Major League Baseball player was booked Friday on charges involving the possession, transport and sale of 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of suspected cocaine worth an estimated $500,000, according to the San Diego Sheriff's Department.

Loaiza played for numerous teams between 1995 and 2008, starting with the Pittsburgh Pirates and concluding with his second stint with the Chicago White Sox. He had a 21-9 record with the Chicago White Sox in 2003 and started in the All-Star Game that year.

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He also played one season for the Washington Nationals in 2005 — the team's inaugural season in D.C. after the franchise changed from the Montreal Expos. During his one season in Washington, Loaiza finished with a 12-10 record adn a 3.77 ERA over 34 games played that year.

It was not immediately known if Loaiza had hired a lawyer and the former player could not be reached to comment. He was being held Monday for lack of $200,000 bail pending a court appearance on Wednesday.

Loaiza's agent, John Boggs, told the San Francisco Chronicle that he had no information about the arrest and that he has not spoken to Loaiza recently. He said that Loaiza had called his office early last week but Boggs was unavailable at the time.

"I am shocked and saddened by the news and had no indication he would ever be in this type of situation," Boggs said in a text to the newspaper. "I don't know how he would get himself involved in this, so it's difficult to even comment on it."

Officers stopped Loaiza for a minor traffic infraction Friday after he left the home he started renting recently in the Pacific coast community of Imperial Beach, along the U.S.-Mexico border. Authorities had the vehicle under surveillance on suspicion it was used for smuggling drugs.

When they searched the vehicle, they found a sophisticated compartment used to conceal contraband, authorities said. That led them to obtain a search warrant for Loaiza's rental home, where they found the packages of drugs, according to investigators.

The packages containing a white powder are still being tested but are believed to be cocaine, said San Diego Sheriff's Lt. Jason Vickery.

Loaiza was born in Tijuana, Mexico and was married for two years to the late Mexican-American singer Jenni Rivera. She filed for divorce shortly before she died in a plane crash in 2012.

The 43-year-old Rivera was known as the "Diva de la Banda" and died as her career was peaking. She was perhaps the most successful female singer in grupero, a male-dominated Mexico regional style, sold more than 15 million records, and moved into acting and reality television.

Loaiza sued the aircraft's owners in 2014 for wrongful death but her relatives accused him of trying to profit from her death. He denied the accusations and later retracted his lawsuit.

NBC Sports Washington contributed to this report.

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