- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 16, 2006

PITTSBURGH — One thing is clear: The Washington Nationals have too many outfielders. What remains unclear is how and when the club plans to solve this overcrowding issue.

The additions of Austin Kearns and Luis Matos leave manager Frank Robinson with five full-time outfielders: Kearns, Matos, Alfonso Soriano, Jose Guillen and Alex Escobar. And that doesn’t include part-timers Marlon Anderson, Damian Jackson and Daryle Ward.

There are indications, though, that the situation could be resolved soon, perhaps by the end of the weekend.

The Nationals will activate right-hander Tony Armas Jr. before tomorrow’s game in Florida and plan to promote lefty Mike O’Connor from Class AAA New Orleans to start Tuesday against the Marlins. That requires two corresponding roster moves, and given the fragile nature of the bullpen right now, it looks like at least one of the outfielders could be on the way out.

The obvious choice would be Escobar, who doesn’t figure to play much with Kearns now in center field. But Escobar is out of minor-league options, and club officials want to give him a shot at winning an everyday job.

“We’re going to have to move somebody off this roster,” Robinson said before last night’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. “If I go to him and say, ‘OK, your role is going to be playing this much or that much,’ and then come Monday you have to tell the guy he got sent down, he’s going to say, ‘Hey, you just told me my role.’ I’m kind of waiting for Monday.”

Much could happen between now and then, with general manager Jim Bowden spending all his time this week exploring trades. Guillen remains a candidate to be traded, and his departure would allow Kearns to move to right field and keep center field open for Escobar and/or Matos.

“That’s something I can’t control,” Guillen said. “There have been a lot of trade rumors in the last few days. … I really don’t worry about that stuff. If it happens, fine. If it doesn’t happen, I’ll be happy, too.”

Defining bullpen roles

Thursday’s trade left Washington’s bullpen in disarray, as well. With Gary Majewski and Bill Bray now in Cincinnati, Robinson no longer has an established set-up man to get him to closer Chad Cordero.

Robinson initially said Jon Rauch would move into the eighth-inning role, but the right-hander gave up two runs on four hits against the Pirates on Friday.

Another candidate could be Kevin Gryboski, who was in the Nationals bullpen last night after having his contract purchased from New Orleans. The right-hander enjoyed significant success as a set-up man with the Atlanta Braves in 2004 and 2005.

Signed as a minor-league free agent over the winter, Gryboski made a strong impression during spring training and posted a 3.86 ERA at New Orleans.

Extra bases

Jackson was not available to play for the second straight night with spasms in his esophagus. Robinson said he doesn’t expect Jackson to be back until tomorrow at the earliest. … Right-hander Shawn Hill, on the disabled list since July 1 with a sore right elbow, played catch from 60 feet for eight minutes yesterday and reported no pain.

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

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