- The Washington Times - Friday, June 3, 2005

You wouldn’t have found many people back on May 1 touting Ryan Church as a realistic candidate for National League Rookie of the Month honors. On that day, the Washington Nationals outfielder owned a paltry .174 batting average and had lost his starting job to Terrmel Sledge.

One month later, Church is the owner of a .308 average and some new hardware for his mantel.

The 26-year-old found out yesterday he had been named Rookie of the Month, a high honor for a player who not long ago was worried about getting demoted to the minors.

“Now it’s like I can finally take a deep breath,” Church said. “I know I can hit. I know I belong here.”

Church’s May turnaround was staggering. He hit .377 for the month, with one homer, 11 RBI and a .508 slugging percentage. He’s still splitting time in left field, now with Marlon Byrd, but he’s producing like an everyday player.

The key to Church’s turnaround? A simple change of philosophy at the plate, courtesy of Nationals hitting coach Tom McCraw: Pick a pitch you can hit, and then wait for it until there are two strikes.

“Earlier in the year, I was trying to swing at everything they threw up there,” Church said. “That’s not how you do it, especially at this level. I might have been able to get away with that in the minors, but not up here.”

Washington right-hander Gary Majewski, who entered last night’s game having not allowed a run in 16 innings, also received votes for rookie honors. Livan Hernandez, who went 5-0 in May, lost out to Padres closer Trevor Hoffman (12 saves) for NL Pitcher of the Month.

Out of the box

Nationals manager Frank Robinson came out of the dugout several times in the last four days to complain to umpires about Atlanta center fielder Andruw Jones.

The problem: Robinson believes Jones is stepping out of the batter’s box when he makes contact with a pitch. If caught, Jones would be called out.

Robinson first brought it to the attention of the umpiring crew Monday, then came back out to argue after Jones singled in the sixth inning Wednesday.

“The evidence is right there in front of them,” Robinson said. “They just say they can’t see it, so they can’t call it. What are you going to do?”

Nationals catcher Brian Schneider said Jones is the only opposing player he’s seen stepping out of the box this year.

“The only thing you can see after the fact is his footprints,” Schneider said. “I’m watching the ball, I’m watching the pitches just like the umpires. I don’t know if it’s something that they have to look at video to do something about, but it’s obvious it happens when you see his foot.”

Surgery for Sledge

Sledge, who ruptured his right hamstring May 2 and is out for the year, underwent surgery yesterday to repair a “slap tear” in his right shoulder. Nationals orthopedic surgeon Wiemi Douoguih performed the operation in Washington.

Sledge will undergo five to six months of rehabilitation on his shoulder, which he originally injured trying to make a diving catch during spring training. That’s approximately the same amount of time Sledge will need to fully recover from his hamstring tear.

Johnson OK

The Nationals got a brief scare when first baseman Nick Johnson left last night’s game in the seventh inning with chest pains. A quick examination, however, revealed Johnson had nothing more than acid reflux.

He underwent some precautionary tests to make sure it was nothing more serious, but he’s expected back in the lineup tonight against the Florida Marlins.

Johnson’s absence proved costly in the field. Utility man Carlos Baerga took over at first base and had trouble scooping up shortstop Cristian Guzman’s off-line throw on Brian Jordan’s eighth-inning grounder. Guzman was charged with an error, helping prolong the Braves’ four-run inning, but some questioned whether Johnson would have made the play.

Baerga did come through at the plate with a key RBI single in the eighth that helped propel the Nationals’ game-winning rally. Brad Wilkerson ultimately moved from center field to first base for the ninth inning.

Extra bases

Bob Boone and Jose Rijo, special assistants to Nationals general manager Jim Bowden, will both be honored by their former teams. Boone will be inducted into the Philadelphia Phillies’ Wall of Fame on Aug. 5. Rijo will be inducted into the Cincinnati Reds’ Hall of Fame (along with ex-teammate Eric Davis) on June 12. …

Treasury Secretary John W. Snow threw out the ceremonial first pitch before last night’s game.

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