- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 21, 2005

NEW YORK — For weeks, the Washington Nationals have been looking forward to Sept.1, the day they can expand their roster with prize prospects from their minor league system.

They may not, however, wait that long.

Ryan Zimmerman, the Nationals’ first-round pick in June, continues to impress at Class AA Harrisburg, and there are growing signs he could be called up when the club returns to RFK Stadium this week.

Manager Frank Robinson plans to meet with general manager Jim Bowden in the next few days to discuss minor leaguers who could help the Nationals down the stretch, and Zimmerman’s name is expected to be at the top of the list.

The 20-year-old third baseman, drafted No.4 overall out of Virginia two months ago, is hitting .310 with eight homers and 28 RBI in 53 games for Harrisburg. He also has looked sharp — although he did have an error last night — since moving to shortstop in the last week, a move that was made to prepare him for a promotion to Washington.

If called up, Zimmerman would likely be used as a fill-in for both third baseman Vinny Castilla and shortstop Cristian Guzman. If he’s on the big-league roster by Aug.31, he would be eligible for the postseason. If the Nationals wait until September to make the move, he wouldn’t be.

Washington could ultimately promote five or six minor leaguers once the roster limit expands to 40. Whether those rookies have much impact on the club’s playoff chase remains to be seen, but Robinson said those moves can provide a spark for a struggling team.

“You never know,” he said. “Sometimes it makes a difference, like acquiring a player [in a trade]. So it happens, but it’s not like a button you can push. It has a lot to do with the ability of the players you’re bringing up.”

Rough days for Wilky

As much as Guzman and Castilla have taken the heat for their lack of production this season, outfielder Brad Wilkerson has remained relatively out of the public spotlight.

Wilkerson, though, has seen his numbers slip down nearly to Castilla’s levels. He’s batting a season-low .246 with eight homers and 44 RBI, with just six hits in 41 at-bats on the Nationals’ current road trip.

Wilkerson’s strikeout totals also continue to climb. He struck out twice last night, raising his total to 125 (second-most in the National League).

“He’s not getting things going for us,” Robinson said. “The big spotlight’s on him, and he’s not performing.”

Though some of his numbers look similar to Castilla’s (.244, nine homers, 53 RBI), Wilkerson has shown he can be productive in other ways. He still leads the Nationals with 65 walks, leading to a respectable .338 on-base percentage.

Extra bases

Preston Wilson has turned things around considerably over the last week. The center fielder has an eight-game hitting streak. Over that span, he is 13-for-28 with two doubles, two homers and eight RBI. This after going 1-for-14 to open the trip. …

Rick Short, another candidate for a September call-up, continues to make a run at a .400 season. He went 0-for-4 last night for Class AAA New Orleans against Omaha, dropping his average to .397. He’s trying to become the first professional baseball player to surpass the .400 mark for a full season since Aaron Pointer hit .402 for Salisbury (N.C.) in 1961. …

The Mets broadcast a DiamondVision message from injured right fielder Mike Cameron, thanking fans for their get-well wishes. Cameron broke both cheekbones and his nose in an Aug.11 collision with Carlos Beltran. …

The Mets drew a crowd of 51,785 for Hispanic Night, their eighth sellout of the season.

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