- The Washington Times - Friday, July 7, 2006

Vinny Castilla understands why the Washington Nationals traded him to the San Diego Padres last winter. And truth be told, he seems to prefer life on the West Coast anyway.

“To be honest with you, I am happy where they want me,” Castilla said yesterday before his first game back at RFK Stadium since the trade. “I can’t be happy in the place they don’t want me. They want me, so I am happy. We are in first place, so it’s better.”

Castilla may be enjoying team success right now, but he’s not enjoying much personal success. He entered last night’s game with a .236 average, four homers, 23 RBI and an abysmal .265 on-base percentage.

The knee injury that plagued Castilla through much of his one season in Washington continues to hamper him this year, but to a lesser extent.

Even if he were healthy, the Nationals have no regrets about the deal that sent the 39-year-old to the Padres for right-hander Brian Lawrence (who is out for the season with a torn rotator cuff). The move was made to open up third base for Ryan Zimmerman, a slightly risky move at the time that has paid off remarkably well.

In addition to his sparkling defense, Zimmerman has blossomed into one of Washington’s most productive hitters. His offensive stats through the club’s first 87 games — a .285 average, 12 homers, 58 RBI and 25 doubles — are nearly equal to the numbers Castilla posted through the entire 2005 season — .253 average, 12 homers, 66 RBI and 36 doubles.

Castilla doesn’t hold any grudges against Washington for dealing him in favor of the 21-year-old Zimmerman.

“I understood since before they made the trade,” he said. “I know he is a good player. I saw him play last year, and he has all the tools. He is old-school, too. I like the way he goes about his business. He has all the ability in the world to play the game.”

Castilla prefers to remember his good moments in Washington, most notably his near-cycle on Opening Night.

“Oh man, there are unbelievable memories here,” he said. “The fans, Opening Day, that’s unbelievable. You want to take that until you die. It’s a great memory.”

Escobar gets his shot

Alex Escobar started in center field last night for the Nationals, and that’s where he’ll remain for the time being.

Washington has been shuffling players in and out of the lineup all season, unable to get consistent play from any of the six center fielders they’ve used. Perhaps they’ll finally strike gold with Escobar, who played in two games earlier this season before straining his left hamstring and missing seven weeks.

Manager Frank Robinson said the club will give Escobar every opportunity to win the job long-term, without losing sight of the team’s immediate needs.

“We want to win games, don’t ever forget that,” Robinson said. “We also have to try and find out what people can do, so we’ll have a good idea about moves we can make and also get some answers before the end of the year. So we don’t have to wait until spring training to see what this guy can do.”

The Nationals have been looking at various center fielders around baseball who might be available. A club official, though, said yesterday that the team has no interest in Luis Matos, who was designated for assignment by the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday.

Injury update

Jose Vidro was out of the lineup last night, because Robinson said the second baseman is “banged up.” Vidro’s right knee, which was injured for much of the last two seasons, acted up again last week when he played on the artificial turf in Toronto.

Vidro did get into the game in the seventh inning as part of a double switch.

Utilityman Marlon Anderson, who had to depart Thursday’s game with a strained rib cage muscle, won’t be in the lineup this weekend but could be available to pinch-hit.

Meanwhile, right fielder Jose Guillen, who was taken out of Thursday’s game in the 11th inning to protect his sore right elbow, was back in the lineup yesterday.


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