- The Washington Times - Monday, June 20, 2005

ARLINGTON, Texas — The sore back and neck that hampered Esteban Loaiza in his last appearance kept the Washington Nationals right-hander from making yesterday’s scheduled start against the Texas Rangers.

Loaiza was a late scratch from the series finale at Ameriquest Field, replaced by long reliever Sun-Woo Kim.

“I might be able to pitch today, but I’d get all warmed up and then cramp up, and then I’d hurt worse than I’ve been the last three or four days,” Loaiza said. “We don’t want that. Give me a couple of extra days.”

Loaiza figures to get more than that. Though he speculated he could be ready to return Wednesday in Pittsburgh, the Nationals are unlikely to shake up their rotation against the Pirates. Livan Hernandez starts tonight’s series opener at PNC Park, followed by Ryan Drese and John Patterson.

Loaiza’s next turn in the rotation would come over the weekend against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Loaiza, who has dealt with lower-back injuries in the past but never neck pain like this, said he first felt stiff a week ago when he woke up at his apartment in Washington. His condition worsened during the course of his three-inning start Monday night in Anaheim, and he blamed that in part for the five runs and nine hits he surrendered to the Angels.

Not even Loaiza’s replacement was able to make it out of yesterday’s game in good shape. Kim had to depart with two outs in the fifth inning with cramps in his right forearm. The injury wasn’t serious, but it prevented the Korean right-hander from pitching the required five innings needed to earn the win.

Wilkerson adjusts

Brad Wilkerson knows he isn’t going to match his 32 home runs from 2004.

But Wilkerson will be more than content to sacrifice his power for a bunch of doubles. The Nationals’ leadoff hitter proved that yesterday, smacking a three-run double in the eighth inning to break open Washington’s 8-2 win.

It was Wilkerson’s league-leading 26th double of the season. He has only three homers to date — a product of the irritated nerve in his right forearm that has plagued him for months — but he’s not worried.

“I’m not getting the lift on the ball that I usually get,” Wilkerson said. “If it causes me to hit 10 home runs this year instead of 30, so be it. I’ve got to go out there and hit the ball hard.”

Because nothing short of a long rest is going to heal his forearm, Wilkerson has been told he probably will have to play through the injury for the rest of the season.

If Wilkerson keeps enjoying games like yesterday — he added two more hits and another RBI — the pain will be far more bearable.

“I just need to be satisfied with hitting the ball hard and not be discouraged that I’m not hitting home runs,” he said.

Day off for Vinny

Vinny Castilla was out of the Nationals’ lineup for the first time in 22 games yesterday as manager Frank Robinson looks to get his veteran third baseman back on track.

Castilla, mired in a 10-for-53 slump, has seen his batting average slide to .263 and has been swinging at an inordinate number of first pitches. Robinson would like him to try to hit to the opposite field more frequently, and he hoped a day off could help clear Castilla’s mind.

“To me, it’s more of an approach and a mindset with Vinny,” Robinson said. “It’s hard to stop it in the course of a game. … Maybe a day off will help him.”

Jamey Carroll started at third base in Castilla’s place.

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