- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 2006

PITTSBURGH — The Washington Nationals added another player to their growing outfield logjam yesterday, signing former Baltimore Orioles center fielder Luis Matos while designating struggling Marlon Byrd for assignment.

Matos, 27, had been designated for assignment by the Orioles on July 6 after hitting .207 with two homers and five RBI in 55 games. He was given his unconditional release later that week, so the Nationals were able to sign him for a prorated portion of the major-league minimum salary ($327,000).

The addition of Matos comes only one day after Washington general manager Jim Bowden acquired outfielder Austin Kearns from the Cincinnati Reds as part of an eight-player trade. With Kearns currently playing center field and flanked by Alfonso Soriano and Jose Guillen, there doesn’t appear to be much playing time left for Matos.

But Bowden said the move was designed more to add Matos’ glove to the outfield. He could be used as a late-inning defensive replacement for Kearns, who has little experience in center field.

“I think it’s important with our present roster structure that we have as good a defensive center fielder out there as we can to help late in games when needed,” Bowden said. “We also feel that we have given opportunities this year to several players, and we’re willing to continue to try players until we find people that can help us succeed.”

Kearns became the Nationals’ seventh different center fielder of the season last night. Matos would be the eighth.

However, Bowden has already said he envisions Kearns playing right field in the long run, a sign that Guillen is not likely to survive the July 31 trade deadline. In that scenario, Matos could be used as the everyday center fielder.

“I’m excited about it,” the career .256 hitter said. “I wasn’t playing that much in Baltimore. … I’m trying here to win a spot. I’m not saying I’m going to come here and play every day. I’m going to wait for my chance.”

Byrd, who had hit just .223 in 78 games this season, passed through waivers and accepted his outright assignment to Class AAA New Orleans.

“He hasn’t been able to get it going for any length of time,” manager Frank Robinson said. “He has had a couple at-bats a few ballgames, but he hasn’t been consistent with his offense. This has been going on for what, 21/2 years? There comes a time when you have to make a decision.”

Extra bases

Brandon Watson, the Nationals’ Opening Day center fielder, was claimed off waivers yesterday by the Reds. Watson, who played in only nine games in Washington before being sent back to the minors, was hitting .305 at New Orleans but missed more than a month with a shoulder injury. The Reds immediately optioned him to Class AAA Louisville.

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

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