- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Washington Nationals’ 25-man roster, which had stood intact for a full month, will undergo a significant shake-up over the next week after a series of events yesterday thrust general manager Jim Bowden into action for the first time in a long time.

Veteran bench player Robert Fick will be placed on bereavement leave today after his mother, Gloria, died of lung cancer. Outfielder Brandon Watson, fresh off his 43-game hitting streak at Class AAA Columbus, will replace Fick.

Meanwhile, reliever Luis Ayala will be activated off the 60-day disabled list Friday, and Jason Bergmann will come off the 15-day DL on Tuesday to start against the Atlanta Braves.

Fick, who made several trips home to Thousand Oaks, Calif., on off-days to visit his mother, learned of her death yesterday afternoon during batting practice. He will remain on bereavement leave three to seven days.

“I told Robert what’s important is his family, not baseball,” Bowden said. “Our prayers are with him and his family, and that’s what’s important. I”m not going to put a timetable on it. He”ll come back when he’s ready.”

Watson was Washington’s Opening Day center fielder in 2006 but became an afterthought until his record-breaking streak. The 25-year-old, placed on waivers by the Nationals last summer and then re-signed in April, broke a 95-year-old International League record Sunday when he recorded a hit in his 43rd straight game.

Club officials remain skeptical Watson“s success will translate to the big league level but want to see whether he has improved in the last year. Thus, they will make him their starting center fielder for now.

“All I know is he’s got a 43-game hitting streak, and anyone who can do that deserves a shot,” Bowden said. “It’s still against Triple-A pitching, so I say that cautiously. But you know, bring him up, give him a chance.”

Ayala has not pitched since he tore an elbow ligament during the 2006 World Baseball Classic, an injury that required Tommy John surgery. But the right-hander has looked sharp during his rehab stint at Columbus.

Bergmann, meanwhile, will make one more rehab start for Columbus tomorrow, then be activated in time to start Tuesday. The right-hander was one of the National League’s dominant pitchers in April, posting a 2.76 ERA in eight starts, and his return could do wonders for a Washington rotation that has been devastated by injuries.

Draft-pick negotiations

Contract negotiations with first-round draft pick Ross Detwiler have intensified over the last week, and Bowden said the left-hander could be signed and pitching in the minor leagues soon.

Detwiler, a left-hander from Missouri State who was selected sixth overall, stands to earn a signing bonus around $2.5 million.

The Nationals also are negotiating with compensatory-round picks Josh Smoker and Michael Burgess, and Bowden said both could be locked up shortly.

Escobar setback

Oft-injured outfielder Alex Escobar suffered another setback in his quest to return to the major leagues.

Escobar, out since September with a dislocated right shoulder, sprained his ankle during a recent rehab game with Class AA Harrisburg and will have his progress delayed at least two weeks.

He was transferred from the 15-day DL to the 60-day DL to create room on the 40-man roster for Watson.

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