- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 10, 2005

VIERA, Fla. — Sledge and Osuna’s injuries are considered minor; each will be out for a few days. Beltran, however, could be headed for season-ending ligament-replacement surgery after an MRI yesterday revealed a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.

Beltran was shut down from throwing two weeks ago when the injury, then classified as a sprained ligament, was first discovered. A follow-up MRI this week revealed the partial tear.

The 6-foot-6 right-hander will travel to Birmingham, Ala., on Monday to be examined by renowned orthopedic specialist James Andrews, at which time he could undergo surgery. Recovery time from a ligament-replacing procedure typically is 12 to 18 months.

Beltran was hoping to make the Nationals’ bullpen this spring after being acquired last summer from the Chicago Cubs as part of the Nomar Garciaparra-Orlando Cabrera blockbuster deal. In 45 games between the Cubs and Montreal Expos, he went 2-2 with a 5.47 ERA and one save.

Sledge is expected to miss three-to-five days after he sprained his right (non-throwing) shoulder trying to make a diving catch in Tuesday’s exhibition game against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Osuna, meanwhile, was scheduled to make his spring debut today but was forced to push it back two days because of inflammation in his right elbow.

Though the injury does not appear serious, it leaves Osuna with even less time to work himself into regular-season form after missing the first two weeks of camp tending to his ill father in Mexico.

“The doctor said it’s just a little inflammation,” said Osuna, who is projected to be one of several members of manager Frank Robinson’s closer-by-committee. “He gave me medicine, and I’ll be able to pitch in two days.”

Game washed out

To the ever-growing list of firsts for the Nationals can be added this one: first rainout. Washington’s exhibition game against the Detroit Tigers was canceled by an all-morning rain at Space Coast Stadium.

The washout won’t interfere much with the Nationals’ pitching rotation. Right-hander Tomo Ohka, yesterday’s scheduled starter, will start today’s split-squad game against the Cleveland Indians in Winter Haven, Fla. Ace Livan Hernandez will start as scheduled in Washington’s other game against the Florida Marlins in Viera. Right-hander John Patterson, who originally was going to start against Cleveland, now will pitch in relief of Hernandez.

Yesterday’s rainout came as welcome relief to most everyone else on the Nationals’ roster. After taking morning batting practice in the indoor cages, the players were given the rest of the day off.

“It’s probably good for the players, lets them take a break,” Robinson said. “As long as it’s one day and not two or three in a row, we can recover.”

Nats vs. O’s

The Nationals and Baltimore Orioles are almost certain to play each other in a regular-season interleague series next year.

“That’s the plan going in,” said Katy Feeney, Major League Baseball’s senior vice president for club relations and scheduling.

Feeney, who was in Viera yesterday to meet with Nationals officials, said MLB plans to begin treating Washington and Baltimore as natural rivals, just like the Mets and Yankees in New York, the Cubs and White Sox in Chicago and the Giants and A’s in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The league is still determining whether to have the natural rivals play six games (split between the two ballparks) a year or only three (all at one site).

Though clubs can tell MLB which interleague rival they prefer to be paired with, Feeney said the league ultimately determines the schedule. And even if the Orioles are opposed to embracing an annual Baltimore-Washington series, the National League East and American League East already are scheduled to face each other in interleague play in 2006.

Extra bases

Infielder Carlos Baerga is day-to-day after getting hit by a pitch Monday against the Tigers in Lakeland. Catcher Gary Bennett may be cleared to play today after missing several days with an abdominal strain. … The Nationals will wear blue batting helmets (with the white, curly “W” logo) on the road this season. The club has been wearing its red home helmets all spring.

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