- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 26, 2006

VIERA, Fla. — Brian Lawrence, whom the Washington Nationals counted on to pitch 200-plus innings this year, will be out at least three months and perhaps for the season with a torn labrum in his right shoulder.

An MRI taken Friday night on Lawrence’s shoulder revealed what team doctors called a “major” tear of the labrum. The 29-year-old right-hander will undergo surgery this morning in Washington, at which time the full severity of the injury will be determined.

In a best-case scenario, club officials said, Lawrence won’t be back until midseason. In a worst-case scenario, he won’t pitch at all in 2006.

“Obviously, it’s disappointing,” said Lawrence, who had been projected as the Nationals’ No. 3 starter. “Injuries have never been an issue with me. I never felt any pain until the first day I showed up here. … Hopefully it gets cleared up, and hopefully I’m back helping this team out before the season’s over.”

Acquired in November from the San Diego Padres in exchange for Vinny Castilla in large part because of his durable track record, Lawrence had to cut his first bullpen session with the Nationals short last Sunday when his shoulder felt stiff. He was shut down for several days but gave positive reports after throwing off a mound Thursday, only to experience a recurrence of pain the following day.

“In the bullpen, it actually felt decent,” he said. “And then the next day, it wasn’t there. I just couldn’t go through it again. Obviously, with that kind of thing I had a feeling something was wrong and I just wanted to figure out what it was.”

Nationals orthopedic physician Wiemi Douoguih, who will perform the surgery today at Washington Hospital Center, and primary care physician Bruce Thomas both said Lawrence passed a physical at the time of his trade and showed no problems. They said a standard physical does not include an MRI, but Lawrence was given tests for range of motion and strength, as well as “provocative” tests to see whether he might have a torn labrum or rotator cuff.

“He passed all that with flying colors,” Thomas said. “In fact, he had no symptoms.”

Said Douoguih: “He had no history of shoulder problems at all. This is a new finding.”

Still, Nationals general manager Jim Bowden said he believes Lawrence likely already was pitching with a slight tear last season in San Diego, then exacerbated the injury during his bullpen session last week.

“We saw him throw in September. We saw him throw a three-hit shutout [on Sept. 29],” Bowden said. “He looked healthy, said he was healthy. That’s just part of baseball, unfortunately.”

Though his 49-61 record and 4.10 career ERA are not outstanding, Lawrence figured at least to give the Nationals durability. He never had been placed on the disabled list in his five seasons with the Padres, and he made at least 31 starts in each of the last four.

The Nationals are responsible for Lawrence’s $3.5 million in base salary this year. They hold a $5.7 million option for 2007 that includes a $550,000 buyout ($425,000 of which would be paid by San Diego).

Five weeks removed from Opening Day, the back end of their rotation is uncertain, with right-handers Ramon Ortiz, Tony Armas Jr., Ryan Drese and Jon Rauch now battling for three spots. Armas, Drese and Rauch are all coming off labrum surgeries of their own.

“I was looking for [Lawrence] to win one of the spots here,” manager Frank Robinson said. “And if he had been healthy, I’m sure he would have. Now we don’t have that, so everyone else moves up a spot. But I think we have enough depth here.”

That said, Bowden spent much of yesterday pursuing outside pitching options. Club sources said Bowden held multiple conversations with the agent for Pedro Astacio, and special assistant Jose Rijo spoke directly with the right-hander, though for now they are not budging on their offer of a nonguaranteed, minor league contract for the suddenly in-demand 36-year-old.

One source also said Bowden held trade discussions with one club in an attempt to land a starting pitcher but balked when that team asked for top prospects in return. Another source said the club has the financial flexibility to add some payroll in the form of a pitcher if necessary.

Bowden insisted Lawrence’s injury has not changed his approach to pursuing another pitcher.

“We’ve been trying to get starting pitching every day, and that hasn’t changed,” he said. “We’ve told everyone that we were pursuing Pedro Astacio with or without the injury. And even if we were able to sign Astacio, we would still not stop searching for starting pitching in an attempt to win.”

Got a question about the Nats?

Mark Zuckerman has the answers. The Times’ beat reporter for the

Nationals will respond to your questions on-line and in print each

Monday, beginning Feb. 27. Send questions to Mark at natsmailbag [AT]

washingtontimes.com


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