- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 16, 2006

MIAMI — The Washington Nationals have at least five days before they have to pick a replacement for injured starting pitcher Ryan Drese. It won’t, however, be Jon Rauch.

Manager Frank Robinson said yesterday he prefers to keep Rauch in the bullpen for now, not wanting to disrupt the right-hander’s rhythm this early in the season.

“I don’t want him going back and forth [between the bullpen and the rotation],” Robinson said before yesterday’s Nationals’ game against the Florida Marlins. “It’s something to think about, but we feel like the best way to go about it is for him to stay right where he is.”

Rauch has long been considered a potential starter, but he’s performed well as a reliever so far this season. He entered last night’s game with a 2.00 ERA in seven games.

With him out of the mix, Washington likely will promote one of three pitchers from Class AAA New Orleans to assume Drese’s spot: left-hander Billy Traber and right-handers Steve Watkins and Kyle Denney.

For now, the Nationals are going with an extra man in the bullpen. Right-hander Saul Rivera was purchased from New Orleans following Friday night’s game, and he was available to pitch last night.

The earliest they will need a fifth starter is Thursday at Philadelphia, and they may be able to push it all the way back to Saturday if they decide not to give John Patterson and Ramon Ortiz an extra day of rest this week.

Drese, meanwhile, will fly to Los Angeles today to have his injured elbow examined by orthopedic specialist Lewis Yocum.

The right-hander was originally scheduled to undergo an MRI yesterday in South Florida, but the club decided to wait and have Yocum administer the exam. Yocum is the same doctor who performed surgery last fall to repair Drese’s torn labrum in his right shoulder.

Drese was forced to leave Friday’s game in the fifth inning after he felt pain in his throwing elbow. He was diagnosed with a sore ulnar collateral ligament, but if the MRI reveals a sprain, he could need season-ending surgery.

Is Cordero OK?

It took almost two weeks for Nationals closer Chad Cordero to record his first save this season last night after leading the majors with 47 in 2005.

That’s because Washington rarely has had a late lead to hand Cordero. But even when he has been used, he hasn’t been himself.

Cordero served up a home run to Florida’s Josh Willingham in the eighth inning Friday, the third straight game in which he was taken deep. His ERA in four games is 5.40, and opponents are hitting .300 against him.

So last night’s save — even though it included a pair of two-out walks and wasn’t ensured until second baseman Brendan Harris made a game-saving catch of Josh Willingham’s liner — was a relief for Cordero.

“It feels good to be able to go out there and get that first one,” he said. “Hopefully we can rack up a couple more wins in a row.”

Robinson continues to believe Cordero’s departure from spring training to pitch in the World Baseball Classic is affecting his performance.

“He didn’t get into the routine that he needed to be in to get his arm to the point where it would be today,” he said. “He’s still catching up, and I don’t see how he do it without getting into these games.”

Guillen, Vidro sit

Jose Guillen and Jose Vidro each were held out of last night’s game, and it appears unlikely either will be in the lineup for today’s series finale against the Marlins.

Guillen strained an oblique muscle during batting practice Friday and likely needs several days of rest before he starts swinging again.

Vidro, meanwhile, tweaked his left hamstring in Friday’s game. Though he said he could have played last night, Robinson didn’t want to take any chances. And with an offday scheduled tomorrow, the Nationals probably will hold both players out until they face the Phillies on Tuesday night.

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