- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Washington Nationals could be without half of their starting infield for today’s series finale against the New York Yankees at RFK Stadium.

Yesterday, starting first baseman Nick Johnson became the team’s latest casualty, injuring his lower back on a swing during his first at-bat — a groundout to Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.

On Friday, shortstop Royce Clayton injured his right shoulder diving for a ball in the eighth inning.

Johnson left yesterday’s game in the bottom of the third and was replaced by Daryle Ward, who had a solo home run and an RBI single.

Team physician Ben Shaffer examined Johnson and said he had a minor lower back strain on his left side. Johnson, who is hitting a team-leading .312 this season, is listed as day-to-day.

“I don’t think so,” Johnson said when asked if he thought he would be out any length of time. “I’ve got some good drugs, so I popped those. I got some treatment, ice and then some heat, to see if this thing can’t calm down.”

Meanwhile, the results of the MRI taken on Clayton’s right shoulder came back negative yesterday. Clayton, who was held out of yesterday’s game, is diagnosed with a right shoulder strain.

Manager Frank Robinson said it didn’t matter if Clayton was given a clean bill of health yesterday, he wasn’t going to play. Brendan Harris started yesterday’s game at shortstop.

Harris, who is not a natural shortstop, and utilityman Damian Jackson are the team’s only viable options when Clayton is out.

Astacio update

Injured right-hander Pedro Astacio received three cortisone injections in his right arm Friday and will be shut down for three days before resuming his throwing program.

Last week, Astacio was recalled off his rehab assignment at Class AAA New Orleans, and received a second medical opinion in Arlington, Texas, on his strained right forearm.

Astacio opened the season on the disabled list. The Nationals signed the 36-year-old to an incentive-laden, one-year, $750,000 deal in the offseason, but he has yet to pitch this season.

“Hopefully, we’ll get him over the hump,” Nationals general manager Jim Bowden said.

Time change

The start time for Saturday’s game against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards has been moved to later in the afternoon to avoid a blackout that would have affected both cities.

Fox dropped the game from its regional package. Because of a rule that gives Fox exclusive rights to the time slot, preventing all local broadcasters from picking up the game, the start time had to be pushed back later in the day just to get the game televised.

Originally slated to start at 1:20 p.m., the game now will begin at 4:35 p.m. and will be shown in the Washington area on Channel 20.

This is the second time this season Fox has dropped the Nationals from its regional broadcast.

Patterson in Potomac

Right-hander John Patterson made his third and probably final rehab start last night. With Class A Potomac, Patterson pitched 51/3 innings and allowed five runs (four earned) on seven hits against Frederick. He walked one and struck out seven. Patterson is expected to start Friday’s game against the Orioles at Camden Yards to open the three-game interleague series.

Patterson, who has been on the 15-day disabled list since April 28 with a strained right forearm, went 1-0 with a 3.86 ERA in four starts for the Nationals before injuring his arm.

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