Tuesday, September 13, 2005

NEW YORK — Washington Nationals right-hander John Patterson, scratched from last night’s scheduled start against the New York Mets with a sinus infection, believes he’ll be ready to return to the mound Friday in San Diego.

And not a moment too soon for a Nationals rotation beset by injuries and other calamities as the season winds down.

“It’s been long enough,” said Patterson, who hasn’t pitched since Thursday. “I wish I could pitch today, I really do. I just wasn’t able to throw. I wouldn’t be helping anybody.”

Patterson threw a bullpen session yesterday and emerged feeling good. He didn’t appear to be showing any ill effects.

“I feel better,” he said. “My energy level’s back up. My strength is back.”

Given all that, there may have been some within the Nationals’ clubhouse questioning why Patterson wasn’t on the mound as scheduled last night. Manager Frank Robinson’s club, which stood four games back in the NL wild-card race entering the game at Shea Stadium, already is down to three healthy starters (Patterson, Esteban Loaiza and Livan Hernandez).

Robinson was forced to start a reliever — Hector Carrasco — for the second straight game because of Patterson’s illness. The manager found it odd that his ace right-hander was fairly certain during the weekend that he wouldn’t be ready to start against the Mets but that he would be ready by Friday.

“I’m not a doctor. I can’t tell you how long someone recovers from what he has,” Robinson said. “It’s just kind of a little hard to accept that someone says on Friday or Saturday that they can’t pitch on Tuesday four days in advance, but they can pitch on Friday, which is about a week overall. … How’s he know he’s going to be all right on Friday?”

Robinson also made it clear he expects all of his players to make every reasonable effort to suit up at this point of the season.

“If you’re always going to wait until you’re 100 percent in this game, you aren’t going to play very much,” he said. “Very rarely over a 162-game schedule will you feel 100 percent. I’m not just talking about pitchers, I’m talking about everybody. Sometimes you have to get it up and go get ‘em.”

Castilla gets the call

Despite pleas from fans and the media, Robinson plans to continue starting Vinny Castilla at third base over rookie Ryan Zimmerman as long as the Nationals remain in the playoff race.

Robinson acknowledges that Zimmerman, 20, at times has looked impressive since his promotion from Class AA Harrisburg. But the manager also has held firm to his long-standing belief that veteran players should get priority over rookies, especially at this crucial juncture of the season.

“I think Vinny has the right to be out there if he’s capable and wants to be out there,” Robinson said. “I don’t know what the kid gives me. I don’t know what he’s capable of doing. But I do know what Vinny is capable of doing. I guess you can call it loyalty. … The kid will have his day.”

Robinson added that his philosophy applies likewise to other veterans like center fielder Preston Wilson.

Ayala done?

Reliever Luis Ayala, out with bone spurs in his right elbow, played catch yesterday and could return to the mound next week, according to Nationals team physician Bruce Thomas.

Ayala, though, hasn’t pitched in nearly two weeks, and Robinson doesn’t believe he will again this season.

“I know this kid,” the manager said. “I know he has never asked for more than one day off. For him to say he is hurting, he’s gotta be hurting. It’s gotta be pretty serious.”

There is a good possibility the right-hander will need to undergo surgery this winter, but Thomas said the club wants to give him one last chance to return this month.

“He doesn’t want to [shut himself down],” Thomas said. “There’s a chance that he’ll be able to get through this without surgery, but there’s a chance also that he’s going to need to have that done. I think he really wants to prove to himself that he can do it.”

Extra bases

Thomas said right-hander Tony Armas Jr. (shoulder tendinitis) remains unable to throw and the chances of him returning this season are unlikely. Thomas did say the club hopes no more surgery is necessary for Armas, who had his rotator cuff and labrum repaired in 2003. …

Second baseman Junior Spivey (broken arm) played catch yesterday, but there are no plans to activate him from the 60-day disabled list. …

Right-hander Ryan Drese (partially torn labrum) will undergo surgery Friday in Southern California.

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