- The Washington Times - Friday, July 15, 2005

MILWAUKEE — Mike Stanton spent the last 10 days waiting to be formally released by the New York Yankees and become a free agent. Once that transaction occurred, he wasted little time signing with the Washington Nationals.

“I think I was a free agent for five minutes when [general manager] Jim [Bowden] contacted my agent,” Stanton said yesterday after joining the Nationals at Miller Park. “So I think the desire for me to be here obviously had a lot to do with it.”

The 38-year-old left-hander is hoping to turn his season around after struggling in 28 appearances with the Yankees. Saddled with a 7.07 ERA, he was designated for assignment June 30, then spent the next 10 days with his family in Houston waiting to become a free agent.

“It was a good 10 days. I spent it with the wife and kids and everything,” Stanton said. “But professionally, it was trying.”

Bowden believes the veteran can turn things around and contribute to a Nationals bullpen that has been overworked in recent weeks. Manager Frank Robinson figures to use him primarily against left-handed hitters (who are batting just .176 against him this year) but won’t hesitate to let him pitch to right-handers.

“Will he be like he was five or six years ago? No,” Robinson said. “But he can certainly help.”

Stanton received interest from several clubs, but he expressed a preference immediately to pitch in the National League East so he could remain close to his family’s in-season home in New Jersey. After a couple of days of deliberations, he signed with the Nationals for a prorated portion of the major-league minimum.

“I wanted to be in the National League East,” Stanton said. “Who better than the first-base club?”

Byrd’s ride recovered

The sport utility vehicle belonging to outfielder Marlon Byrd has been recovered nearly intact, D.C. police said yesterday.

“We got it back, processed it and we’re still looking at it as far as evidence,” said Lt. Brian McAllister, commander of the department’s support investigations section in charge of auto theft. “The case is far from dead.”

Twelve cars belonging to Nationals payers and employees were broken into at RFK Stadium during the team’s nine-game road trip in June, and Byrd’s black Cadillac Escalade was stolen from the players’ parking lot.

McAllister said the Escalade was discovered at an apartment complex in Northeast. The apartment manager called to have the vehicle towed, and police found it on a towing lot in Northwest about 10 days after the theft.

The SUV’s radio was stolen and the driver’s side door lock was tampered with, but the car was otherwise intact, McAllister said.

McAllister said police are following several leads gathered from the vehicle’s discovery and from a surveillance video showing a black Dodge Ram with West Virginia tags entering the lot the afternoon of June 20.

Wilky back to first

Wednesday’s acquisition of Preston Wilson and Nick Johnson’s prolonged stay on the disabled list have temporarily turned Brad Wilkerson into the Nationals’ everyday first baseman.

Wilkerson had made only one other start in the infield this season (April 27 against the Phillies), but he started 78 games at first base last year while Johnson was hurt.

“When I saw there was a deal, I knew I was going to be playing first base today,” said Wilkerson, who will move permanently to left when Johnson returns. “I think it’s going to take a couple of days to get used to the speed of the game. Hopefully, I get a few ropes hit at me so I can have some confidence.”

Whether Wilkerson has a chance to get comfortable at first remains to be seen. Johnson’s recovery from a bone bruise in his right heel has been much slower than originally anticipated. He is expected to wear a protective boot for at least another week, which would seem to indicate his return is at least two weeks away.

Private money reconsidered

District Mayor Anthony Williams met briefly yesterday with city officials to consider a revised proposal of private stadium financing from Deutsche Bank for the Nationals’ new ballpark in Southeast. The private financing effort was left for dead in May by most within city government, but a revised bid from Deutsche Bank has reignited interest from D.C. Council chairman Linda Cropp and other District leaders.

Activating a deal with Deutsche Bank requires only approval from Williams and no council votes. No timetable exists for a decision, and formal negotiations with the German bank giant have not begun. The Deutsche Bank plan involves providing the District $246 million in upfront financing in return for control of a revenue stream of ballpark-related sales taxes. Such a plan, endorsed for months by District chief financial officer Natwar Gandhi, could allow the city to lower the gross receipts tax on large District businesses that forms part of the existing funding plan.

“The mayor is open to making some changes to the plan, but there is also some hesitancy to doing too much. He’s considering all his options,” said Vince Morris, the mayor’s spokesman.

Extra bases

Cristian Guzman and Ryan Church both returned. Guzman, who missed 10 games with a strained left hamstring, started at shortstop and went 0-for-3. Church, on the DL since slamming into the fence in Pittsburgh on June 22, pinch-hit in the eighth inning and flew out. He’s expected to start in left field tonight. …

To make room on the roster for Preston Wilson, the Nationals outrighted outfielder Matt Cepicky to Class AAA New Orleans.

• Staff writers Eric Fisher and Gary Emerling contributed to this article.

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