- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Washington Nationals had a familiar face behind the plate last night in their first game at RFK Stadium in more than a week. And not a moment too soon.

Catcher Brian Schneider returned to the lineup after a six-game layoff, the product of tendinitis in his right shoulder. The Nationals managed to go 4-2 in his absence, but those last two losses in particular (a pair of blown leads in San Diego) were tough for Schneider to watch from the bench.

“It was hard on the whole team, but when you’re not in there and you can’t perform, you want to help the team out and do whatever you can,” he said. “It’s hard to take, especially when those are key games for us.”

Though he hopes to be able to play nearly every day down the stretch, Schneider will have to see how his shoulder feels on a day-to-day basis. He wasn’t able to throw for several days last week, but was encouraged when he played catch Sunday and experienced no pain.

“It’s getting better every day,” he said. “It helps that I’ve had off-days. They’ve been saying all along that the goal was Tuesday, and here we are. It’s now or never, you know?”

Schneider’s return gives the Nationals’ lineup a much-needed boost. He is hitting .270 with 10 homers and 44 RBI, which is an improvement over backup Gary Bennett, who’s hitting just .220 for the season and was 4-for-21 over the last week.

Church apologizes

Outfielder Ryan Church issued an apology yesterday for remarks he made in a recent article in The Washington Post, in which he wondered whether Jews are “doomed” because they don’t believe in Jesus.

“Those who know me on a personal level understand that I am not the type of person who would call into question the religious beliefs of others,” Church said in a statement released by the Nationals. “I sincerely regret if the quote attributed to me in Sunday’s Washington Post article offended anyone.”

Nationals president Tony Tavares has suspended Jon Moeller, the club’s chapel leader whom the article said nodded in agreement when Church asked him if Jews were doomed, “pending a further and more in-depth investigation of the facts surrounding this story.”

Tavares’ response came after a local rabbi denounced the remarks. Tavares said the printed opinions “do not, in any manner, reflect the views or opinions of the Washington Nationals franchise.”

Casto, O’Connor win honors

The Nationals named third baseman Kory Casto and left-hander Michael O’Connor as their minor league player and pitcher of the year.

Casto hit .290 with 36 doubles, 22 homers and 90 RBI for Class A Potomac. The 23-year-old infielder was the Expos’ third-round draft pick in 2003.

O’Connor went 10-11 with a 3.54 ERA and 158 strikeouts in 26 starts for Potomac. A native of Ellicott City, Md., he was a seventh-round pick in 2002 out of George Washington.

Both Casto and O’Connor will be honored before tomorrow afternoon’s series finale against the Giants.

Extra bases

Reliever Luis Ayala, out with bone spurs in his right elbow, threw 25 pitches in a simulated game Monday and emerged feeling OK. The club will re-evaluate him today and decide whether to allow him to pitch again this season. …

Bruno Majewski was in the crowd at RFK Stadium last night to see his grandson, Gary, in a major league game for the first time. Majewski, a native of Houston, was going to watch Gary pitch in person when the Nationals played at Texas earlier this summer but he was discovered to have a 90 percent blockage in an artery and underwent a procedure to clear it.


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