- The Washington Times - Friday, May 27, 2005

Mired in their worst slump of the season and plagued by a mind-numbing run of injuries, the Washington Nationals underwent a roster shakeup yesterday that included the demotions of struggling pitchers Zach Day and Claudio Vargas and the loss of reliever Jon Rauch to a potentially season-ending shoulder injury.

General manager Jim Bowden made nine transactions, turning the Nationals’ off day between series in Cincinnati and St. Louis into their busiest of the season. The moves were made mostly out of necessity, but Bowden acknowledged they also send a message to his club, which has lost five of six and is coming off a three-game sweep by the lowly Reds.

“I don’t tolerate losing,” he said. “I don’t like going 1-5 on the road. I don’t like losing to teams we’re better than. It sends a message to the club that we’re not going to accept this. You’ve got to perform or we’ve got to make changes.”

Though lack of offense has been the club’s primary problem lately, the bulk of yesterday’s changes were to the pitching staff.

Day and Vargas were the most noteworthy victims. Day, whose ERA had ballooned to 6.75 over five starts and 12 appearances), was optioned to Class AAA New Orleans to rediscover his effectiveness.

“We’ve got to straighten him out,” said Bowden, one of Day’s strongest supporters. “He’s not getting any better in the bullpen. We’re not down on him, but he’s struggling, so let’s fix him. The best thing to do is send him down and let him start every five days in New Orleans.”

Vargas, whose ERA stood at 9.24 after he lasted just a total of 62/3 innings over his last three starts, was designated for assignment. The Nationals have 10 days to trade or release the right-hander or get him through waivers.

Perhaps yesterday’s most disheartening news involved Rauch, who will require surgery after tearing the labrum in his right shoulder. The 6-foot-11 right-hander had been an effective long reliever for manager Frank Robinson, but an MRI yesterday revealed an injury Bowden described as “extremely serious.” At best, Rauch will miss eight to 12 weeks. At worst, he’ll be lost for a year.

Bowden attempted to compensate for the losses to his bullpen with a series of additions. Right-hander T.J. Tucker, out since late April with a pulled groin, was activated off the 15-day disabled list. Right-hander Sun-Woo Kim was purchased from New Orleans, where he posted a 2.76 ERA as a starter.

Bowden also signed veteran reliever C.J. Nitkowski, who had three saves and an 0.83 ERA at Class AAA Indianapolis, giving the Nationals the left-hander they’ve sorely needed since Joey Eischen broke his arm May1.

Washington’s depleted bench also got some help with the addition of speedy outfielder Tyrell Godwin from New Orleans, a move that had been planned since Wednesday, when the Nationals announced that right-hander John Patterson would be placed on the 15-day DL with back spasms.

In order to make room for Godwin on the 40-man roster, the Nationals transferred outfielder Terrmel Sledge (ruptured hamstring) from the 15-day to the 60-day DL, the club’s ninth transaction of the day.

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