- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2006

Washington Nationals right fielder Jose Guillen vowed yesterday to be 100 percent once spring training starts in February. But what uniform he will wear remains uncertain. Guillen will become a free agent in October.

“These people [Nationals] already know me, I’ve already talked to [general manager] Jim [Bowden] and we’ve had some good conversations, and I’m pretty confident that I’m going to come back here,” Guillen said.

Guillen was in town yesterday for the first time since undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery July25. Guillen returned to the District to collect his personal belongings and then head back to his Miami home and continue rehab on his right elbow.

“It’s not only the tear, it was all the muscles around there was torn, everything was broken in half and I don’t even know how I was playing like that,” Guillen said of hitting a career-low .216 this season. “I knew something was wrong the way I was swinging. At times, I felt my right arm was giving up on me and I didn’t have the full extension. Knowing myself and talking to my trainer, I’ll be hitting in three months, and I’ll be 100 percent next year by spring training.”

Harper makes debut

When Nationals bench coach Eddie Rodriguez informed Brandon Harper that he would catch last night’s game against Florida, Harper nearly tripped up the steps in the tunnel leading to the Nationals clubhouse at RFK Stadium.

“[Rodriguez] said, ‘Hey relax, don’t get too excited,’” Harper recalled. “I’ve been waiting for it forever.”

Harper had toiled for 10 years in the minors without ever getting called up. Just like Rick Short with the Nationals last season, Harper got a hit in his first at-bat when he blooped a double down the right-field line off Dontrelle Willis in the second inning. For the game, Harper went 1-for-2 with a double and was hit on the right shoulder by a Willis pitch.

“There’ll be a mark there tomorrow, I’ll guarantee that,” Harper said.

The Nationals purchased the contract of Harper, 30, from Class AAA New Orleans to replace injured backup catcher Robert Fick.

Harper credits Rick Eckstein, the Zephyrs’ hitting coach, with straightening out his swing. Harper, who entered this season as a career .244 minor league hitter, was batting .292 (35-for-120) with 10 doubles, two home runs, and 11 RBI in 43 games for the Zephyrs.

“About a month and a half ago, Rick Eckstein and I kind of overhauled my swing,” Harper said. “I started working with him, and things just started clicking. I was [alternating] with [Alberto] Castillo and getting consistent at-bats and everything.”

Harris joins staff

The Nationals named former major leaguer Lenny Harris as the club’s minor league roving infield instructor yesterday.

Harris, 41, who played 18 seasons for eight different clubs, is best known as baseball’s all-time pinch hit leader with 212. Over his lengthy career, Harris hit .269 with 161 doubles, 21 triples, 37 home runs, and 369 RBI in 1,903 games.

Vidro in Woodbridge

Injured second baseman Jose Vidro is scheduled to make a rehab assignment tomorrow for his strained left hamstring with the Class A Potomac Nationals in Woodbridge, Va. For now, the plan is for Vidro to just play tomorrow’s game, but Robinson didn’t rule out having him play Saturday as well.

On the rise

In just two months, right-handed reliever Zechry Zinicola has gone from short-season Class A Vermont to Class AA Harrisburg after being promoted yesterday.

Zinicola, whom the Nationals drafted in the sixth round (181st overall), did not allow a run in eight games (four saves) with Vermont. The Arizona State product then went 3-0 with three saves and a 1.98 ERA in nine outings for Potomac in the advanced Class A Carolina League.

Bowie injured

Reliever Micah Bowie was forced from last night’s game in the seventh inning with an upper back strain. Bowie, the only left-handed reliever in the Nationals bullpen, is listed as day-to-day.

Since having his contract purchased from New Orleans on July 6, Bowie has been perhaps the club’s best reliever, throwing scoreless relief in 12 of his 15 appearances. Bowie said he felt something in the same vicinity where he injured his back last April 3 in an exhibition game against the New York Mets at RFK Stadium. Bowie threw 14 pitches before exiting last night’s game.

“It’s in the same area and I would rather be cautious than overly aggressive with it right now,” Bowie said. “Hopefully, it will be a couple days and off we go.”

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