- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 9, 2006

Right-hander Livan Hernandez requested his next start be pushed back until the Washington Nationals’ third game after the All-Star break to see whether the extra rest makes his right knee feel better.

Hernandez, who lasted just 1 2/3 innings in Thursday’s 8-7, 11-inning win over the Florida Marlins, will have nine days’ rest between starts. Hernandez (6-8, 5.94 ERA) will pitch next Sunday in the finale of a three-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.

“A few more days I think could help me, I think, but I don’t know,” said Hernandez, who allowed seven runs on six hits in his last outing. “It’s not that if I have two more days off I’m going to throw a shutout or something. Two days is two days.”

Hernandez was initially scheduled to pitch Friday night, followed by right-hander Ramon Ortiz. Now the Nationals’ rotation to open the second half is Ortiz (6-7, 4.85); right-hander Pedro Astacio, who started last night’s game; and then Hernandez.

The back end of the Nationals’ rotation remains undecided. The club wants to see how today’s starter, John Patterson, feels and how Tony Armas Jr. progresses in tomorrow’s rehab start at Class AA Harrisburg.

“A lot will depend on Tony and how he feels in his rehab start on Monday and if all goes smooth with him and how Patty feels tomorrow on his start,” Nationals pitching coach Randy St. Claire said of the two right-handers. “Those two guys haven’t been feeling too hot. So it’s going to be how they go, how they feel.”

If Armas is not ready to be activated off the 15-day disabled list because of his right forearm strain, St. Claire said left-hander Mike O’Connor would be the logical choice to fill out the rotation. O’Connor was optioned to Class AAA New Orleans on Thursday and will pitch for the Zephyrs during the major league All-Star break.

“He didn’t get sent down because he was throwing terrible. He got sent down because we wanted him to pitch,” St. Claire said. “We don’t want him to go 15 days without pitching.”

Escobar’s chance

Alex Escobar is tired of carrying an injury-prone label, but he’s realistic. He knows he has a shot to win the job as the Nationals’ starting center fielder.

“Yeah, the opportunity is there. It’s open,” Escobar said. “It’s obvious that they need somebody out there, and I’m trying to do my best to stay.”

Escobar, who was rated as the New York Mets’ top prospect from 1999 to 2001 by Baseball America, had played in just 208 games (majors and minors) during a four-year span entering this season. Escobar sat out all of last season after having a screw surgically implanted in his fractured right foot.

Before getting a second straight start in center field last night, Escobar was hitting .333 with a triple and an RBI in four games with the Nationals this season.

Guillen’s choice

Outfielder Jose Guillen was in last night’s lineup despite a right elbow injury that sometimes causes severe pain when he swings a bat.

Hitting just .209, which would be the lowest average in his 10-year career, Guillen has battled five different injuries — shoulder, wrist, chest, hamstring, and elbow — already this season.

Though Guillen is playing hurt, Nationals manager Frank Robinson will remove the veteran right fielder from his lineup only if Guillen asks to sit down.

“He wants to be out there and play, so I let him play; when he can’t tolerate it, he’ll let me know,” Robinson said. “When he goes out there [hurt], you know you’re not going to get the real Jose Guillen, but when we have him in the lineup, we’re much better.”

Extra bases

The game was Tony Tavares’ final one as president of the Nationals. With the franchise’s sale closing expected any day now, Tavares officially relinquished control of the franchise to incoming president Stan Kasten. Tavares presided over the franchise for the past 4 seasons since Major League Baseball appointed him president of the Montreal Expos on Feb. 12, 2002. … Injured right-hander Ryan Drese threw 40 pitches in a simulated game yesterday. Drese will throw another simulated game next week.

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

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