- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 21, 2005

PITTSBURGH — The Washington Nationals may find themselves in a serious pitching dilemma when they arrive at PNC Park this afternoon.

With both scheduled starter John Patterson and potential fill-in Esteban Loaiza battling nagging back injuries, the Nationals may have no choice but to start Sun-Woo Kim on two days’ rest against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

That’s hardly the ideal scenario for a Washington club that has been devastated by injuries, but the Nationals may have no other choice.

Manager Frank Robinson doesn’t expect to make a decision until he arrives at the ballpark this morning.

“Up in the air. Sleepless night,” he said. “I’ve got to figure out what I’m going to do if neither one of them can go.”

Through the process of elimination, it appears Kim is the only realistic alternative to Patterson or Loaiza. The right-hander threw 87 pitches Sunday afternoon in an emergency start in Texas, leaving after 42/3 innings because of cramps in his pitching arm.

“It’s more than likely going to be ‘Sunny’ tomorrow,” Robinson said, though he wouldn’t let on whether he was referring to Kim or the weather forecast.

The dilemma arose after Patterson began feeling a recurrence of the back pain that landed him on the 15-day disabled list earlier this season. The right-hander received the same facet block injection Monday in Cincinnati that left him woozy last month, rejoined the club yesterday and could be ready to pitch Friday night against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Loaiza, meanwhile, continues to battle the neck and back pain that forced him to miss Sunday’s start and be replaced by Kim. Loaiza said he woke up yesterday still feeling stiff and was walking around the Nationals’ clubhouse with a bulky heating pad around his neck.

Patterson did say after last night’s game that he believes he can start today, though the final decision won’t be made until the morning.

“I’m coming here prepared to pitch,” Patterson said. “It’s my day to start. I hadn’t planned on missing a start at all”

Vidro update

Jose Vidro again took batting practice and ran in the field before yesterday’s game, and Robinson said the All-Star second baseman, who has been out since May 4 with a torn tendon in his left ankle, could return in as little as 10 days.

It still hasn’t been determined whether Vidro will go on a rehabilitation assignment before coming off the disabled list. General manager Jim Bowden said yesterday he always prefers players work their way back slowly from major injuries, particularly a player of Vidro’s importance.

“We’re planning on playing in October, so let’s make sure we’re ready to play in October,” Bowden said. “We don’t want to come back too early, have a setback, and then you’re not ready for October. He’s too important for this team. We’ve got to take care of him, bring him along properly and make sure he’s ready to go when he goes.”

Zimmerman debuts

Ryan Zimmerman, the Nationals’ top draft pick, made his minor league debut, batting third and playing third base for Class A Savannah. He went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in a 3-1 loss to Charleston.

Washington initially had pegged the former University of Virginia star to begin his professional career at Class AA Harrisburg, but he hasn’t played competitively in about three weeks, and the club wants him to get his swing down before promoting him.

“When you’re out this long, you’ve got to get game-ready,” Bowden said.

Bowden also admitted that his recent acquisition of infielder Junior Spivey negated any need to try to rush Zimmerman to the major leagues this year.

Decision delayed

Major League Baseball will not select its finalists to buy the Nationals this week as previously had been hoped. MLB executives continue to hold interviews with the bidding groups, with the sessions set to conclude next week. MLB president Bob DuPuy said baseball is still targeting midsummer to name the club’s new owner.

Extra bases

The MRI taken on reliever T.J. Tucker on Monday revealed a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Tucker will be re-evaluated Friday, after which the Nationals will decide how to progress, but surgery is an option. …

Zach Day, out since mid-May with a fractured right forearm, has been cleared medically to start throwing and will pitch a simulated game Tuesday in Washington. The club doesn’t appear to have any plans to activate Day off the DL in the immediate future, though. …

Joey Eischen (fractured nonthrowing arm) allowed one run on three hits in one inning Monday night in his second rehab appearance for Class AAA New Orleans. Eischen is eligible to come off the 60-day DL on July 1, but Bowden said “it’s going to take a while with him.” …

Antonio Osuna (shoulder surgery) is scheduled to begin his throwing program Saturday at the Nationals’ minor league complex in Viera, Fla. He’s not expected back until August or September at the earliest.

Staff writer Eric Fisher contributed to this article.

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