- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 9, 2005

HOUSTON — Brandon Watson walked into the visitors’ clubhouse at Minute Maid Park yesterday, found his locker and discovered what number he would be wearing for the Washington Nationals: 00.

“They could have had any number in the world on my locker,” Watson said later. “I don’t care.”

The newest (and certainly the youngest-looking) member of the Nationals was too excited about making his major league debut to worry about the number on the back of his jersey. It’s the name on the front that mattered most to Watson, who six years after getting drafted by the Montreal Expos finally made it to the big leagues.

Watson got his first major league hit in his second at-bat — a double down the right-field line in the third inning off Ezequiel Astacio. Then he went himself one better with a solo homer in the fifth.

Promoted from Class AAA New Orleans over the weekend, Watson started in left field and batted leadoff for the Nationals in the opener of a three-game series against the Houston Astros. Quite a daunting task for a 23-year-old outfielder with the face of a 16-year-old.

“Hey, you gotta get out there sometime,” Watson said. “You can’t wait forever.”

No, but Watson did have to wait awhile to work his way through the Expos/Nationals farm system. A ninth-round pick in the 1999 draft, the 6-foot-1, 170-pound Los Angeles native took the long route to the major leagues. He made stops at every level of the minors along the way, then wowed club officials with his .354 batting average in 75 games at New Orleans this year.

“He looks like he has a good idea what he wants to do [at the plate],” manager Frank Robinson said. “He hits the ball where he wants to.”

And runs well once he does make contact. Watson was tied for second in the Pacific Coast League with 27 stolen bases.

Watson isn’t quite as polished in the outfield. A natural center fielder, he most recently moved to right field in New Orleans. Scouts, though, say he doesn’t have the arm to play right field in the big leagues, so Robinson yesterday plugged him in left and moved the stronger-armed Preston Wilson to right field for the first time this year.

Guillen available

Watson was in the lineup last night in place of regular right fielder Jose Guillen, who it was discovered has a partially torn left rotator cuff. Guillen rejoined the Nationals yesterday after spending Monday in Birmingham, Ala., to be examined by noted orthopedic specialist James Andrews.

Andrews confirmed the club’s diagnosis of a partial tear in Guillen’s nonthrowing shoulder and said surgery is not necessary. He recommended that Guillen be out three to seven days, a timetable that did not necessarily sit well with the competitive outfielder.

Guillen walked into Robinson’s office before yesterday’s game and informed the manager he was available to pinch-hit if needed.

Don’t be surprised if he talks his way into the starting lineup before the end of this series.

Extra bases

Brian Schneider returned to Washington’s lineup for the first time in six games. The catcher, who was battling bursitis in his right shoulder, hopes he has overcome the injury, though the Nationals might take it easy with him for now and give him occasional days off to rest. “I feel great,” said Schneider, who is batting .340 since June 1. “But the test is how I feel tomorrow when I wake up.” …

Right-hander Ryan Drese will start tomorrow’s series finale against Houston’s Andy Pettitte on his regular four days’ rest. The Nationals could have started Tony Armas Jr. instead, but they want him to have more time to recover from the shoulder tightness that plagued him during his last outing (Aug. 3).

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