- The Washington Times - Friday, May 20, 2005

When Claudio Vargas takes the mound tonight in Toronto, he’ll be doing so on two days’ rest. That may sound like an ironman effort from the Washington right-hander, but it’s not so hard to come back from just a 1-1/3-inning outing.

That’s why Nationals manager Frank Robinson didn’t hesitate to tab Vargas for tonight’s interleague series opener with the Blue Jays after scheduled starter John Patterson was scratched with back spasms.

That’s also why Vargas can’t wait to get back on the mound and attempt to erase the memory of Tuesday night’s disastrous outing against the Milwaukee Brewers, who tagged him for six runs on seven hits.

?I feel good. I only threw 40 pitches,? Vargas said. ?I’m hoping now to go out there and do my job.?

Having spent two months on the disabled list with a sprained right elbow, Vargas figures to be hit-or-miss while he gets into midseason form. The right-hander, who turned 26 yesterday, was fabulous in his season debut May 11 in Arizona, when he allowed no earned runs in six innings. He wasn’t nearly as sharp in his second start, and caught his manager’s eye because of it.

?I didn’t think his fastball had as much zip,? Robinson said, though Vargas reiterated that his arm feels fine.

Meanwhile, the man Vargas will be filling in for tonight has been tabbed to start Sunday’s series finale against the Blue Jays.

Patterson, who has a 2-1 record and 2.98 ERA in seven starts, said he started experiencing back spasms while the Nationals were in Arizona last week. The problem cropped up again Sunday against the Cubs. He approached Robinson on Wednesday and told the manager he didn’t think he could make his next start.

?I wanted to do everything I could to make my start on Friday,? Patterson said. ?It just didn’t work out.?

Patterson said his condition has improved the last few days thanks to treatment, but he couldn’t say for certain that he’ll be ready to return by Sunday.

If he can’t go as planned, the Nationals would likely start either Tomo Ohka, Zach Day or Jon Rauch.

No Guillen, no offense

The Nationals will be glad to get cleanup hitter Jose Guillen back in the lineup tonight after the star right fielder missed the last three games with a bruised rib cage.

The time off has done Guillen good, but it hasn’t helped Washington’s offense. Though the Nationals managed to win two of the last three games in his absence, they’ve scored just six runs and managed just 16 hits in the process.

Without Guillen, Robinson has been forced to use Vinny Castilla and Nick Johnson in the cleanup spot, and that’s had a residual effect on the rest of the lineup.

?It changes an awful lot,? Robinson said. ?We’re a different team. … It’s certainly a different look, and probably less of a threat when the other guys are in there.?

Back in Canada

The the team formerly known as the Montreal Expos are returning to Canada.

?It’s not a big deal,? Robinson said ahead of the team’s three-game interleague series beginning tonight against the Toronto Blue Jays. ?We’re not going to Montreal. We’re going to Toronto. Like other teams, we’ve got to get our passports out, be courteous and answer directly to the customs guys.?

Extra bases

Robinson said he has not decided on a designated hitter for this weekend’s interleague series. The most likely candidates, though, are Ryan Church, Jeffrey Hammonds and Tony Blanco. …

The Nationals have gone 41 games this season without hitting either a three-run homer or grand slam, making them the only team in baseball to do that. They’re still 12 games shy of the franchise record to open a season (set by the 1994 Montreal Expos) and well shy of the 1978 Chicago White Sox, who did not hit their first three-run homer until their 70th game of the year.

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