For Kearns, a welcome home on road

While the Washington Nationals embarked last night on a seven-game road trip, right fielder Austin Kearns was looking forward to sleeping in his own bed.

Kearns was born and still lives in Lexington, Ky., 80 miles south of Cincinnati, where the Nationals will be today through Thursday for a four-game set against the Reds. He was drafted by his hometown team in the 1998 draft and played with the Reds for 4 seasons before coming to Washington with Felipe Lopez and Ryan Wagner for Gary Majewski, Bill Bray, Royce Clayton, Brendan Harris and Daryl Thompson in July.

“It’s not like I circled it on the calendar for motivation or anything,” Kearns said. “I am looking forward to it because it is a chance for me to go home.”

This will be the first series against their former teammates for Kearns and Lopez, and it will be the first time back in Cincinnati as members of the opposing team.

“I am sure it will be a little weird sitting on the other side, the visitors’ side, but other than that you just try to treat it normal,” Kearns said. “I am looking forward to seeing some family and friends but other than that just try to treat it like a normal game.”

Kearns probably hopes a return to the hitter-friendly environment of Great American Ball Park will help rescue him from a recent slide. After going 0-for-3 yesterday, Kearns has one hit in his past 20 at-bats, dropping his average nearly 30 points to .244.

Church OK

Left fielder Ryan Church was hit on the left wrist by a pitch from Baltimore starter Erik Bedard in the fourth inning. He remained in the game until Ryan Langerhans replaced him after the fifth.

The MRI came back negative, and he is day-to-day with a bruise.

“It was straight on. I thought I broke it,” Church said. “Just the way it sounded — I heard a crack and got in here and got the MRI done. … Hopefully [I can play] tomorrow. It is one of those things that might be a couple of days, but I’ll just ice it, get on the plane, ice it again and go from there.”

A Washington welcome

Nicklas Backstrom, the Washington Capitals’ first-round pick in the 2006 draft, was in attendance with Caps owner Ted Leonsis and threw out a ceremonial first pitch before the game. Backstrom agreed to a three-year, entry-level contract Wednesday and will be introduced by the organization today at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

While Backstrom was waiting for his chance near the Nationals dugout, Washington relief pitcher Ray King struck up a conversation. Bedard is from Navan, Ontario, but he wasn’t the only hockey fan among the two teams.

“My wife is from Calgary, and I got a chance to see quite a few hockey games when I was in Calgary, and I got a chance to understand the game,” King said. “I was just shooting the breeze with him and welcomed him to D.C. First thing I asked him was if he lost any teeth yet, and he said no. No stitches or anything yet, so he is doing pretty good.”

Backstrom, a 19-year old center from Sweden, sported a black No. 19 Caps jersey yesterday but never will wear it in a game. The team is switching to red, white and blue uniforms with a new logo next season.

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