- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 4, 2005

LOS ANGELES — For four weeks now, the Washington Nationals have shown a remarkable ability to overcome adversity, whether in the form of injury, ineffectiveness or the weather.

If they can somehow fight their way through their latest calamity — the loss of left fielder Terrmel Sledge to a serious hamstring injury — it will be without a doubt their greatest achievement to date.

Sledge underwent an MRI on his right hamstring before last night’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and though the results weren’t immediately available, the Nationals were fearing the worst.

?This is a serious injury,? general manager Jim Bowden said. ?This is not a regular hamstring pull. I’ve been around the game a long time. This is the most serious hamstring I’ve seen since [Reds slugger Ken Griffey Jr.]. I’m praying it’s not pulled off the bone, but there are symptoms that it is.?

Sledge hurt himself trying to chase down Hee-Seop Choi’s double in the sixth inning of Monday night’s 6-2 win. The injury was immediately diagnosed as a Class 2 hamstring pull, but if the muscle did become separated from bone, it would be considered a Class 3 pull — a potentially season-ending ailment.

Sledge’s injury leaves the Nationals without their most-reliable left fielder and — at least of late — the No. 5 hitter in their lineup. It leaves them with talented-but-unproven rookie Ryan Church as their everyday left fielder, for now. And it leaves them with an even thinner bench than they had been playing with for the last month.

Bowden sought to alleviate that problem as best he could by calling up two outfielders with big-league experience before last night’s game: former starting center fielder Endy Chavez and 13-year veteran Jeffrey Hammonds.

Both players were available off the bench last night, and both offered something important to manager Frank Robinson.

Chavez, demoted to Class AAA New Orleans during the final week of spring training because of his inability to get on base at a reasonable rate, posted a .352 on-base percentage through the season’s first month. Though club officials don’t believe the 27-year-old is a changed man at the plate, he can be valuable as a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch-runner.

“He’s a guy who can, if he gets on base, put pressure on the defense,” Robinson said. “He brings something to the table and something we don’t have a lot of.”

Hammonds, 34, failed to make the club out of spring training as a non-roster invitee, but the former Baltimore Orioles phenom made strides at New Orleans and gives Robinson the veteran bat off the bench that he has been lacking since Wil Cordero went on the disabled list with a knee injury.

“Jeffrey Hammonds gives us professional at-bats,” Bowden said. “When you’re pinch-hitting off the bench, you need someone who can give you a professional at-bat, not swing at flyers out of the zone. … He’s a veteran guy, he knows how to play the game and he’s a good influence on the younger guys.”

To make room on the 40-man roster for Hammonds, the Nationals transferred reliever Joey Eischen (who broke his right arm Sunday night at RFK Stadium) from the 15-day DL to the 60-day DL.

Yesterday’s moves gave Robinson more options on his bench. They didn’t, however, do anything to bolster his already depleted bullpen, which for the second straight night had only five available arms — all right-handed.

The Nationals appear content to stick with a 10-man pitching staff at least through tonight’s series finale at Dodger Stadium and perhaps through this weekend’s series in San Francisco.

“It’s safe to say we’re not going to have 10 pitchers very long,” said Bowden, who is not interested in any left-handers currently available. “I don’t believe in 10, ever. I believe in 11, I believe in 12. But if the staff handles it today and tomorrow, we can keep waiting.”

When Washington finally does make a move, it almost certainly will involve Tony Armas Jr.’s reinstatement from the DL. Out since Opening Day with a pulled groin, Armas is scheduled to make one more rehab start with New Orleans tomorrow. He will fly to San Francisco to join the club over the weekend and could be activated in time to start Tuesday in Arizona.

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