- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 6, 2005

As they had hoped, the Washington Nationals these days are seeing the Marlon Byrd of 2003.

Two years ago, Byrd was the Philadelphia Phillies’ regular center fielder and finished fourth in voting for the National League Rookie of the Year Award after batting .303 with seven home runs and 45 RBI.

After a poor 2004 season and a slow start with the Nationals this spring, Byrd is hot again. After going 1-for-4 in last night’s 4-2 loss to the Florida Marlins at RFK Stadium, Byrd is 12-for-31 (.387) with one home run and six RBI in eight games after being recalled from Class AAA New Orleans on Thursday.

“I went down [to New Orleans] and worked hard to get my swing right and got consecutive at-bats so I could start feeling everything on my swing,” Byrd said. “[Being sent down] was a blessing in disguise.”

Byrd, 28, looks like an entirely different player at the plate this time with the Nationals. In 56 games after being acquired May 14 from the Phillies for outfielder Endy Chavez, Byrd hit just .248. But he said he made subtle adjustments on his swing at New Orleans.

“I started loading all my weight on my back leg a little more to free up my hands, got a little movement going back to go forward — a lot of things I had forgotten about,” Byrd said.

Manager Frank Robinson will have an outfield dilemma on his hands once first baseman Nick Johnson recovers from a bruised right heel. Outfielder Brad Wilkerson is currently playing first base, but Byrd’s sizzling bat is making it nearly impossible for Robinson to bench him when Johnson returns.

“It’ll be tough, but if he keeps it up maybe we won’t put him down,” Robinson said.

Armas’ second opinion

Right-hander Tony Armas Jr. might not pitch again this season. Armas was examined yesterday in Dallas by Dr. John Conway, who diagnosed Armas with tightness in his right shoulder capsule.

For now, the plan is to alter Armas’ exercise program, change his medication and re-evaluate him in 10 days. There is a possibility offseason surgery will be necessary, but club officials are hoping Armas (7-7, 4.97 ERA) will be able to make a spot start near the end of the season.

Vidro back

Second baseman Jose Vidro’s right knee felt good enough for him to pinch hit last night. Vidro, who had not played since Thursday, batted for rookie reliever Jason Bergmann with runners on first and second and two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning. Vidro, who has sat out the past four games with right knee inflammation, popped out.

“He told me before the game that he was available to hit but not available to play in the field,” Robinson said

Before the game, Vidro vowed to return to the starting lineup before the season is over.

“I’m very happy with the way I felt out there today, but I still have a ways to go to make sure I’m OK,” Vidro said after going through limited pregame work.

Rauch is back

Before last night’s game, the Nationals activated right-hander Jon Rauch from the 60-day disabled list and transferred second baseman Junior Spivey (broken arm) from the 15-day to the 60-day DL. Spivey is eligible to come off the DL today but most likely will not be reinstated.

The 6-foot-11 Rauch gives the Nationals a much-needed long reliever and emergency starter. However, Rauch probably won’t be available for a couple days after working three innings Monday in a rehab assignment with New Orleans. He allowed one run on one hit and struck out two.

The Nationals, who now have 34 players on the roster, placed Rauch on the DL on May 25 with a torn right labrum. He was 1-3 with a 4.00 ERA in eight games out of the bullpen.

Extra bases

The Nationals will give free tickets to tonight’s game to any Hurricane Katrina evacuees staying next door at the D.C. Armory. …

Johnson, who is hitting .286 with 12 home runs and 59 RBI, is still listed as day-to-day but is getting closer to returning. Johnson took batting practice and ran before last night’s game.

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