- The Washington Times - Monday, May 9, 2005

SAN FRANCISCO — After spending the better part of the last six weeks placing players on the disabled list, the Washington Nationals are at long last ready to start recouping players off the DL.

The Nationals yesterday activated utility man Henry Mateo, giving the club some sorely needed help both in the infield and the outfield. Mateo, who underwent surgery last September to repair the torn labrum in his right shoulder, had been on a rehab stint at Class AAA New Orleans.

The switch-hitting 28-year-old hit .273 in 40 games in an injury-plagued season with the Expos last year. When healthy, Mateo could be a key contributor off manager Frank Robinson’s bench. Though he’s a second baseman by trade, he also can play shortstop, third base and all three outfield positions.

To make room for Mateo, the Nationals outrighted outfielder J.J. Davis to New Orleans. Davis, hitting just .231 over 26 at-bats, was out of minor-league options but successfully passed through waivers before being sent down.

Mateo isn’t the only player ready to come back from injury. Right-hander Tony Armas Jr., out since late spring with a pulled groin, will come off the DL in time to start tomorrow night’s game in Arizona, a move that will give the Nationals an 11-man pitching staff again. (Outfielder Endy Chavez would be the next likely candidate for demotion.)

Washington also has been getting good reports on right-hander Claudio Vargas and could be close to activating him. Out since spring training with a sprained right elbow, Vargas has made five rehab starts at New Orleans, including an impressive seven-inning, one-run showing earlier this week.

Vidro still hobbled

On the other end of the injury spectrum, Jose Vidro remains bothered by a high and lateral left ankle sprain. The second baseman, who hurt himself sliding into home plate Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Dodgers, arrived at SBC Park yesterday on crutches and wearing a protective boot.

Vidro said the ankle has improved slightly in the last few days, but he still can’t move well from side-to-side, and there remains a good chance he will have to be placed on the DL.

“If you had asked me on Friday, I would have said yes because there was so much pain there,” he said. “But the pain has gone down, not significantly, but I can put a little bit of weight on my ankle. But it’s not comfortable yet.”

The Nationals plan to wait until they return home at the end of the week to make a final decision on Vidro. General manager Jim Bowden has told Vidro not to try to come back before he’s 100 percent.

“We’re not going to rush it,” Vidro said. “The team’s playing really good right now. Obviously I want to be there, but at the same time it takes the pressure off me to be in the lineup.”

No Church on Sunday

Despite his .440 average over his last eight games, not to mention his three-run doubles on back-to-back days, Ryan Church was held out of yesterday’s lineup. Robinson doesn’t feel the rookie outfielder is ready to start facing left-handed pitching on a regular basis and thus went with veteran Jeffrey Hammonds in left field against Giants starter Kirk Rueter.

“There’s no rush with a kid like Church to get him in on an everyday basis,” Robinson said. “He’s swinging the bat pretty decent right now, and I don’t want to get him out of his groove.”

Church, Washington’s surprise starting center fielder out of spring training, struggled early this season but has turned things on since teammate Terrmel Sledge tore his hamstring last week. The improvements seem to be a product of both physical and mental adjustments. Church had a tendency to dip his back shoulder before swinging, and the club has corrected that. He also has been getting some sage advice from hitting coach Tom McCraw about his approach at the plate.

“Mac’s been constantly, every day pounding me about the mental things,” Church said. “I think it’s finally embedded in there now. I’ve just got to trust it. So far I have.”

Guillen: No excuses

Nationals outfielder Jose Guillen believes his fellow Latin American baseball players are making lousy excuses for testing positive for steroids.

Guillen says despite challenging language barriers, Spanish-speaking players know exactly what they’re putting in their bodies. As he put it: “We’re all grown enough men and we all know what we’re doing.”

Some Latin American players say baseball’s steroids policy can be confusing, leading them to misunderstand which substances are banned, including over-the-counter supplements bought back home.

More than half the players suspended for positive tests at both the major and minor league levels were born in Latin America.

cThe Associated Press contributed to this report.

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