Oft-injured Drese to have surgery

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LOS ANGELES — Washington Nationals right-hander Ryan Drese will have Tommy John surgery this week, making him the organization’s sixth pitcher to have some sort of surgery this season.

Drese, who hasn’t pitched in a major league game since April 14, was close to returning from a strained elbow, but he said he didn’t feel right during a minor league rehab start Wednesday with Class AA Harrisburg. Team officials determined he needs ligament replacement surgery.

“I thought I did really good with the rehab and the rest,” he said. “But it gets to a point where it’s too hard. It’s hard enough to play the game healthy. But playing when you’re physically hurt and it hurts every time you throw the ball, it’s near impossible.”

Drese will remain in Los Angeles tomorrow to be evaluated by orthopedic specialist Lewis Yocum, who will perform the operation Tuesday or Wednesday. Recovery time is expected to be anywhere from 12 to 18 months, so Drese may not be ready to pitch again until late next season at the earliest.

Claimed off waivers from the Texas Rangers in June 2005, the 30-year-old has never been healthy with the Nationals. He made 11 starts for Washington last season, going 3-6 with a 4.98 ERA but was pitching with a preexisting tear in his shoulder that required offseason surgery.

Drese briefly came back this season, posting a 5.19 ERA in two April starts before complaining of elbow pain. He was put on the disabled list April 15 and began a long rehabilitation program that he hoped would be finished this week.

In hindsight, he wishes he had had an operation earlier.

“Back in April, I would have had it,” he said. “But I had opinions from two different doctors, and they were both in agreement that this was the way to go.”

Drese is making $1.75 million this season. The Nationals hold a $3 million option on him for 2007 but can buy out the contract for $50,000. He’ll join Luis Ayala, Brian Lawrence, John Patterson, Joey Eischen and Zach Day as Nationals pitchers who have had major surgeries this year.

Ayala regrets decision

Ayala, who had Tommy John surgery in March to repair a similar injury, can relate to what Drese is about to go through.

The right-handed reliever has been rehabbing in Phoenix but is with the team this weekend in Southern California.

Ayala has yet to throw since the surgery, but he says his arm feels good and he believes he will be ready for spring training.

And for the first time since injuring himself in the World Baseball Classic, Ayala says he regrets his decision to pitch for his native Mexico. He was coming off minor elbow surgery during the offseason, and team officials pleaded with him not to participate.

Ayala said he felt pressure from his countrymen to pitch but now regrets that he gave in.

“I can say Mexico, they pushed me to play in the World Classic,” he said. “It’s my country. I played for nine years there. They gave me a big moment.”

Baffled by Armas

Whatever trade value Tony Armas Jr. might have had likely vanished late Friday night when the right-hander was battered around by the Dodgers in a 13-1 loss.

Armas was touched up for six runs in three innings, raising his ERA to 4.79. He is 7-6 but only has one win in his last six starts.

“It was just a situation where I pretty much [stunk] right from the get-go,” Armas said.

He is 7-6 but only has one win in his last six starts.

“It’s baffling,” manager Frank Robinson said. “He has great stuff. You just wonder what it is that he can’t just go out there and put what I call the good stuff to use.”

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