- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO — The Washington Nationals might want to think about handing out name tags to everyone who enters their clubhouse these days. That might be the only way to keep track of which 25 players are on the active roster on that particular day.

The Nationals have perfected the art of the revolving-door roster this season, swapping out players with their minor league affiliates seemingly on a daily basis.

They were at it again before last night’s game against the San Francisco Giants, placing left-hander Mike O’Connor and utilityman Robert Fick on the 15-day disabled list and purchasing the contract of catcher Brandon Harper from Class AAA New Orleans.

For those keeping track, Harper will become the 50th player used by the Nationals this season, tops in the major leagues. They have promoted an astounding 24 players from either New Orleans or Class AA Harrisburg since Opening Day, 16 of them pitchers.

“It’s gotten to the point where instead of being difficult, it’s been ridiculous,” said general manager Jim Bowden, who used a franchise-record 54 players in 2005.

Perhaps no series of transactions better underscores Washington’s season-long travails than yesterday’s flurry of moves. It began with O’Connor going on the DL with a mild flexor tendon strain in his left elbow, an injury that is expected to keep the rookie hurler out two to three weeks.

The Nationals had announced Sunday they were optioning O’Connor back to New Orleans after he struggled over the last month. The 25-year-old then informed club officials for the first time that he had been experiencing elbow pain — news that took the team by surprise.

O’Connor underwent an MRI in Los Angeles on Monday that confirmed the injury, and the club canceled his demotion to the minors and instead placed him on the DL.

“When you’re hurt, you have to communicate it,” Bowden said. “We had no knowledge of any soreness that he had until after the player was optioned to Triple-A. … He apologized, accepted responsibility, admitted that he was wrong and explained why he did what he did, which was understandable. But that being said, he knows he won’t ever do that again.”

O’Connor was joined on the DL yesterday by Fick, who suffered left rib cartilage separation during an awkward dive back into first base during Friday night’s 10-7 win over the Giants.

“I kind of got stuck, and I kind of heard something pop,” said Fick, who is expected to be out a minimum of three to four weeks.

Starter Brian Schneider is already battling both a strained lower back and a bruised right wrist (sustained Friday when he was tagged by a foul ball from Damian Jackson while standing in the on-deck circle). Desperate for some catching help, the Nationals promoted Harper — a 30-year-old who has never played in the big leagues before — from New Orleans and made him Schneider’s backup for the foreseeable future.

Harper, who was hitting .292 in part-time duty with the Zephyrs, normally might have been fazed by his first taste of the major leagues. But when he walked into Washington’s clubhouse yesterday, he immediately recognized a host of players who had previously spent time with him in the minors this season.

“There’s quite a few of them,” Harper said. “There’s five or six guys from the New Orleans team, so it makes it a little easier for you to fit in.”

As nice as it is for the young guys, the Nationals would have preferred not to have to dip into their kiddie-sized pool of prospects with so much regularity. Only nine players made it from Opening Day to Aug. 1 without a trip to either the minors or the DL: Alfonso Soriano, Ryan Zimmerman, Nick Johnson, Livan Hernandez, Chad Cordero, Ramon Ortiz, Jon Rauch, Marlon Anderson and Daryle Ward.

That’s not the kind of stability manager Frank Robinson was hoping for when the season began four months ago.

“You just have to take what you have down there [in the minors],” Robinson said. “The people that are down there who can do the best job are the ones that are recommended to us by the minor league people. We do the best we can. Injuries are a part of the game, and we’ve had a lot of them this year.”

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To submit a question, go to the Sports Page

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