- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2007

CINCINNATI — When the Nationals’ 2007 schedule was released, Austin Kearns immediately looked for two key dates: His 27th birthday, and Washington’s lone trip of the season to Cincinnati.

Imagine Kearns’ surprise when he discovered the two coincided with each other and he realized he’d get to spend his birthday Sunday night at his home in Lexington, Ky., in advance of this week’s four-game series against the Reds.

“You always like to see when your birthday is,” the former Cincinnati No. 1 draft pick said. “It was kind of neat, got to come home and stuff.”

Kearns’ return to Great American Ball Park for the first time since the Reds traded him to the Nationals last July turned into a major event for the outfielder. He crushed a two-run homer to left in the second inning, receiving a smattering of cheers from the assembled crowd, but was involved in one of the evening’s crucial plays when he and center fielder Nook Logan allowed Scott Hatteberg’s fly ball to fall in during Cincinnati’s rally to an 8-7 victory.

“I had a lot of fun, for about 71/2 innings,” Kearns said. “The end, it leaves a sour taste in your mouth. But it was fun. I just wish it had been a different result.”

Before the game, a horde of local media members surrounded the outfielder on the field during batting practice and peppered him with questions about his new gig in Washington. Admittedly slow to adjust to his new surroundings following the trade last season, Kearns has since embraced life with the Nationals, and he conveyed those feelings yesterday.

“I enjoyed it here. I’m happy where I’m at,” he said. “I’m happy with what’s taken place in D.C. That’s the best way I can put it. At some point, it’s time to move on, and I’ve done that and I look forward to playing in D.C. for a while.”

Kearns was joined by a couple other ex-Reds players making their first appearance at Great American Ball Park. Second baseman Felipe Lopez, a part of the same trade, downplayed his return, saying he’s looking forward to next month’s series in Toronto (where he made his major league debut). First baseman Dmitri Young, though, was excited to be back six years removed from a stint with the Reds he called “probably the best” experience of his baseball life.

Church sits

For the first time this season, manager Manny Acta’s starting lineup didn’t include Ryan Church. The left fielder was held out last night with a bruised left forearm that was still sore one day after he was hit by a pitch from Baltimore Orioles lefty Erik Bedard.

X-rays taken Sunday were negative, and both Church and Acta said they expect him to return to the lineup tonight. While Church (who along with Ryan Zimmerman had been the only Nationals players to start the first 44 games of the year) admitted his wrist was too sore to swing a bat, he was disappointed the longest consecutive games streak of his career had ended.

Less-friendly return

General manager Jim Bowden, still a controversial figure in Cincinnati four years after he was fired as Reds GM, did not appear at the stadium before last night’s game, though he was expected to arrive later in the evening and be present for the rest of the series.

Bowden entered the evening one win shy of 1,000 in his GM career. He ranks fifth among active GMs, trailing only Atlanta’s John Schuerholz (2,290), Philadelphia’s Pat Gillick (2,117), Detroit’s Dave Dombrowski (1,261) and St. Louis’ Walt Jocketty (1,055).

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