- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2005

VERO BEACH, Fla. — Vinny Castilla, out since hyperextending his left knee March 18, will play in minor league games the next two days and hopes to return to the Washington Nationals’ lineup Thursday.

If the veteran third baseman progresses as planned, the club believes he will be ready to start Monday’s season opener in Philadelphia. However, general manager Jim Bowden won’t rule out the possibility of Castilla going on the disabled list.

“I’m not at that point yet,” Bowden said before last night’s exhibition game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. “He’s regained his bat speed. But without his knees, he’s not going to help us much. … It’s getting down to the wire.”

Castilla, who hurt himself catching a pop-up near the New York Mets’ bullpen in Port St. Lucie, Fla., won’t play in the field the next two days but will get to pick up plenty of at-bats leading off for both of the Nationals’ minor-league teams. He was just 2-for-20 this spring before suffering the injury.

“I’m going to play in the minor league game because I can get like seven at-bats at one time,” Castilla said. “I’m ready.”

Veteran Carlos Baerga, battling with Rule 5 pickup Tony Blanco for the final spot on Washington’s bench, started at third base last night. Manager Frank Robinson, however, has said utility man Jamey Carroll likely would get the nod on Opening Day if Castilla is not back.

Desmond sent down

The Nationals reassigned shortstop Ian Desmond to their minor league camp yesterday, ending the 19-year-old’s impressive stint with big leaguers.

Desmond, one year removed from high school, wowed Robinson and other club officials with some spectacular play in the field the last six weeks. He proved adept at the plate as well, batting .294 with four RBI in 19 games.

Robinson, though, never planned to keep the top prospect (who has drawn comparisons to Derek Jeter) on the major league roster, not wanting to stunt his growth. Desmond will report to Class A Savannah.

“It’s definitely been a great experience,” he said. “I think me going down and playing a whole year would be great for me just to establish myself as a hitter, more than just a defensive specialist. When I come into the league, I want to be a hitter and a defender.”

Nats complete deal

Washington acquired minor league first baseman Carlos Torres from the Boston Red Sox as the player to be named from last month’s trade of infielder Alejandro Machado.

Torres, who led the Gulf Coast League last season with eight home runs, will report to short-season Class A Vermont.

Chavez still struggling

Endy Chavez went 0 for 3 last night, dropping his spring batting average to .212. Though it’s been widely assumed the center fielder has locked up the everyday leadoff spot, Robinson said after the game that’s not necessarily the case. Chavez has plenty of detractors within the organization.

“Who’s going to line up and who’s going to play on this team is not set yet,” Robinson said. “I don’t want to give any negative thoughts or anything like that. I want these guys to go out there with an open and clean mind and show me that they belong on this team.”

Architect vote Thursday

The D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission has scheduled a Thursday meeting to vote on its choice of the architect to design the Nationals’ planned stadium in Southeast.

The recommendation of a six-person evaluation team that led the architect search process has not been disclosed. But Kansas City-based HOK Sport, which has designed 10 of the last 14 major league baseball stadiums, is the strong favorite.

• Staff writers Ken Wright and Eric Fisher contributed to this article.

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