- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2005

PHILADELPHIA — His ‘tweaked’ groin muscle still not 100 percent, Washington Nationals center fielder Ryan Church was scratched from the starting lineup for the second straight game last night. And even if the rookie is physically ready to return for today’s series finale with the Philadelphia Phillies, his starting debut could be pushed back further because of some disadvantageous pitching matchups.

Church, who surprisingly won the starting center field job this spring, said again yesterday he felt well enough to play. But Nationals manager Frank Robinson didn’t want to take any chances and elected to once again start Brad Wilkerson in center, with Terrmel Sledge in left.

However, Church did pinch-hit for reliever Antonio Osuna in the seventh inning last night and struck out.

Before the game, Church said he expected to be back in the lineup ‘either tomorrow or the next day.’ But Robinson may not be so quick to bench Sledge, who hit the first homer in Nationals history, once Church is deemed ready.

?It depends on how Sledge is hitting,? Robinson said. ‘If he’s hitting the ball very well, he’ll stay in there until he slumps. If he continues to hit and we’re winning, we’ll keep the lineup the way it is.’

Church’s starting debut also could be delayed because of Washington’s upcoming pitching matchups. The Nationals face Phillies left-hander Randy Wolf today, then Marlins lefty Dontrelle Willis tomorrow night in Florida, and the left-handed hitting Church said Robinson might prefer to use him against a right-hander.

Armas headed south

Injured Nationals starter Tony Armas Jr. said he will return to Florida to pitch in extended spring training games against minor leaguers as part of his rehabilitation process to better prepare himself when he is eligible to come off the disabled list Tuesday.

‘I’m going to go to Florida for a little bit and pitch a couple games down there,’ said Armas, who has a right groin pull. ‘I’m going to be working down there for a little bit so I can come here prepared to face hitters.’

The Nationals right-hander took himself out of the game after the first inning of the March27 exhibition against the New York Mets. Armas retired the side and left the game as a precaution. The following day the Nationals placed Armas on the DL.

‘Throwing off a mound is not far away from where I want to be,’ Armas said. ‘I’ve been doing [arm exercises] and limited stuff from my legs.’

Armas is unsure when he’ll go to Viera, Fla., and is waiting for the Nationals to tell him when to leave. The Nationals are showing caution when it comes to Armas. Projected as the club’s No.2 starter, he has missed the better part of the last two seasons recovering from rotator cuff surgery.

Guillen healthy again

Though he was in the starting lineup for the Nationals’ final two exhibition games and on Opening Day, Jose Guillen did not feel like himself. The right fielder was battling flu-like symptoms that left him weak and grumpy.

After a much-needed day off Tuesday, though, Guillen returned to the ballpark yesterday feeling chipper again. He responded by singling in his first at-bat and hitting a two-run homer in the eighth.

‘It was pretty bad,’ he said. ‘It was so bad I didn’t even want to talk about it. But I feel much better. This is my first full-strength day. … Hopefully, I’ll stop swinging like a little girl like I was the last few days of spring and Opening Day.’

On Francona

Robinson said he could understand how the pressures of managing in the big leagues could lead to occasions like yesterday, when the Red Sox’s Terry Francona had to be hospitalized with chest pains. ‘You can’t let it build up,’ Robinson said. ‘You have to let it out.’

Vidro passes Cromartie

A single and double in the final two innings last night gave Jose Vidro 1,064 hits in his career, moving him past Warren Cromartie for sixth on the Nationals/Expos all-time list.

Nats not limited to 20

The Nationals are limited locally to 76 games on WDCA-TV (Channel20) until the new Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) begins to strike deals to get carried on cable and satellite providers. But there are a few other national options to find the Nationals on TV this month while those negotiations continue.

The MLB Extra Innings package, a subscription service on both satellite and cable, plans to show the Nationals seven times in April, three games of which are not also on WDCA. In each instance, the video feeds shown on Extra Innings will be from the Nationals’ opposition because no over-the-air broadcasts go on the service.

TBS, one of the Atlanta Braves’ cable partners that carries a national presence, plans to show games against Washington on April11, 13 and 21. Most Nationals games also appear live on MLB.TV, Major League Baseball’s online streaming video service, which carries a subscription fee.

MLB.TV typically carries local blackout provisions to help drive TV viewership in each team’s home market, but no such restrictions exist yet for the Nationals.

Another look at costs

D.C. Council chairman Linda Cropp is asking Natwar Gandhi, District chief financial officer, to conduct a third estimate on land acquisition costs for the Nationals’ new ballpark in Southeast after several council members questioned the estimate of $77.1million issued last week.

The Gandhi estimate was part of a $161.4million overall projection for land acquisition, environmental remediation and infrastructure costs for the stadium that barely missed a $165million trigger that would have required the search for a cheaper ballpark site. Gandhi first explored the potential stadium costs last fall.

‘I’m not sure what to make of it yet,’ said Mark Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission. ‘I have a lot of faith in Nat’s numbers, but this is very much a council decision.’

The new tally is expected by May15.

Meanwhile, the commission approved an $800,000 advance to architects HOK Sport and Devrouax & Purnell to begin preliminary design work on the planned stadium. The D.C. Council is expected to ratify the full $18.6million contract for the architects.

Eric Fisher contributed to this article.

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