- The Washington Times - Monday, February 27, 2006

VIERA, Fla. — Washington Nationals right-hander Brian Lawrence appears done for the season after undergoing surgery yesterday to repair what the team called “extensive” tears of both the labrum and rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder.

Wiemi Douoguih, the Nationals’ orthopedic physician, performed the surgery at Washington Medical Center yesterday morning and discovered the damage to Lawrence’s shoulder was even worse than an initial MRI had shown. That image revealed the labrum tear, but it wasn’t until Douoguih was able to operate that the rotator cuff tear was confirmed.

“It’s more severe than we thought,” general manager Jim Bowden said.

The club said Lawrence will return to Florida immediately to begin physical therapy. He won’t begin throwing again for 12 weeks, and his full return is not expected for four to eight months.

That does leave a sliver of hope Lawrence might pitch for the Nationals this season, but team officials aren’t counting on it.

“I think you have to plan that he will not be back this year and be pleasantly surprised if he is,” Bowden said.

Projected to be Washington’s No. 3 or 4 starter after being acquired in November from the San Diego Padres for Vinny Castilla, Lawrence never even made it through his first bullpen session of the spring. He cut that workout short after his shoulder felt stiff, and though he said he felt good when he threw again off a mound four days later, the pain returned soon after, and he was shut down for good.

With Lawrence, who is due to make $3.5 million this season, out of the picture, the Nationals now must find someone to fill his spot in the rotation. Bowden spent last week pursuing free agent Pedro Astacio but said yesterday that talks with the veteran right-hander were “at an impasse” and expressed doubt a deal could be completed.

Bowden instead has shifted his attention to trade talks. He wouldn’t divulge any names he’s discussed, but quality pitching figures to be available only for a hefty price.

Given that, manager Frank Robinson may have no choice but to go into the season with only two proven starters (Livan Hernandez and John Patterson) and to fill out the rotation with some combination of Tony Armas Jr., Ramon Ortiz, Jon Rauch and Ryan Drese. Robinson also mentioned left-hander Billy Traber — signed this winter as a six-year, minor league free agent — as a potential starter.

It’s hardly an ideal situation but one Robinson said he’s comfortable with if need be.

“I have to look at what I have,” he said. “I’d like to have two more proven arms. … But there’s no sense losing sleep over it. What you have, you try to get the most out of those individuals.”

Cordero breathes easier

It appears Chad Cordero will get his inhaler back after all. The Nationals’ closer said he expects to receive permission from organizers of the World Baseball Classic in the next week to use a prescription inhaler to combat his asthma.

Cordero hasn’t been using the inhaler for several months because the Albuterol medicine inside it is on the WBC’s banned substance list. It’s not banned by Major League Baseball.

Cordero’s agent contacted event organizers and filed a request for a medical exemption. Cordero, who will pitch for Team USA, hasn’t heard back definitively yet, and he hasn’t begun using the inhaler again, but he was told he’s likely to receive the exemption.

“It’s a big relief,” he said.

Patterson starts opener

John Patterson will start the Nationals’ exhibition season opener Wednesday against the Kia Tigers, a Korean team. That will put him on a five-day schedule that sets him up to pitch Washington’s second game of the regular season April 5 against the New York Mets.

Robinson and pitching coach Randy St. Claire will meet this morning to set up the rest of their spring rotation. Ace Livan Hernandez, who already has been named the Nationals’ Opening Day starter, could make his spring debut Saturday in one of two scheduled split-squad games. St. Claire said it will be up to Hernandez, who is coming back from minor knee surgery, whether he wants to pitch this week or wait until his turn in the rotation comes back around.

St. Claire is pleased with what he has seen from Hernandez to date.

“He’s feeling really good,” St. Claire said. “He threw a great side [session] today. He’s getting better, where I’m seeing more extension and finish on his pitches, more drive off the back side. He looks like he did the beginning of last year.”

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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