- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 15, 2006

MIAMI — As if the losing streak — six in a row after a 5-3 loss to the Florida Marlins last night — wasn’t bad enough, now the Washington Nationals are losing players at an even more alarming rate.

The ballclub, which arrived in South Florida bruised and battered emotionally from its horrendous start to the season, has added right-hander Ryan Drese to the growing list of injured players. Making his second start since returning from offseason shoulder surgery, Drese had to leave last night’s game in the fifth inning complaining of elbow pain and wound up getting placed on the 15-day disabled list.

And he wasn’t alone in the trainer’s room at Dolphin Stadium. Right fielder Jose Guillen was a late scratch from the lineup last night after straining an oblique muscle during batting practice, and second baseman Jose Vidro left in the sixth inning with lingering tightness in his left hamstring.

Not exactly the kind of developments a 2-9 team is looking for.

“It’s crazy. A lot of weird stuff has been happening,” Guillen said. “But there’s nothing you can do about it. You just keep playing hard, and hopefully you’re going to get better one of these days.”

Guillen’s injury, which occurred after he took only five swings in batting practice, likely will keep him out of the lineup at least through the weekend. He said he’s not worried about going on the DL yet but didn’t rule out the possibility.

“If I have to take two weeks off for me to get better,” he said, “then I’m going to have to do that.”

Vidro’s injury doesn’t appear to be as serious. He said he felt tightness running to first in his final at-bat but hopes he can play tonight.

Drese’s setback, however, could very well be significant. An on-site examination by team physician Bruce Thomas revealed he has a sore ulnar collateral ligament, but that could be only the precursor to something more serious. He’ll undergo an MRI today and is scheduled to be examined next week in California by orthopedist Lewis Yocum (who operated on his shoulder in September).

“That’s why it’s even more frustrating,” Drese said. “I was building my shoulder strength up. I was throwing the ball hard, throwing it firm and nice and easy, and this happens. I’m just going to hope for the best, and whenever I get the MRI, I’ll hope it’s short-term.”

At the very least, the Nationals will need to find a replacement for him in their rotation before his turn comes up again next week. For now, they purchased the contract of reliever Saul Rivera from Class AAA New Orleans, giving them an extra arm in the bullpen until they have to add another starter.

Minor league left-hander Billy Traber and right-handers Steve Watkins and Kyle Denney are all options for the rotation.

“We’re not real deep in the first place, and it’s very difficult to lose our front-line people that we were counting on to help this ballclub be a winning combination,” manager Frank Robinson said. “We’re losing those people and it makes it difficult, especially the way we’re going right now.”

Drese looked sharp early on last night, retiring the first six batters he faced. But he began faltering in the third, the start of his quick and ultimately painful downfall.

The Marlins plated a run in the third on Dontrelle Willis’ perfectly placed safety-squeeze bunt. They added two more in the fourth when Drese walked a pair and then surrendered a double to Chris Aguila.

By the time he served up an RBI single to Miguel Cabrera with two outs in the fifth, again following two walks, Drese was struggling. He felt pain in his elbow after throwing a strike to Mike Jacobs, then called for a trainer after his next pitch.

“It was pretty painful,” Drese said. “I’ve never felt anything like this before.”

Given all that went wrong for the Nationals over the course of the evening, it was easy to forget they at one time had Willis, the Marlins’ ace, on the ropes. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first thanks to four singles, then loaded the bases with two outs in the second.

Washington couldn’t take advantage of Willis’ uncharacteristic wildness, though, and wound up adding just one more run off him (on an error in the sixth). The Marlins bullpen then finished things off, getting 31/3 scoreless innings from Carlos Martinez, Matt Herges and closer Joe Borowski.

“The first two innings, we could have had [Willis] out of there,” Vidro said. “I thought we should have gotten more than two runs against him.”

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