- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 24, 2006

BALTIMORE — The Washington Nationals placed pitcher Tony Armas Jr. on the disabled list yesterday, choosing to take the cautious route with the right-hander and his strained forearm.

Team doctors determined that Armas will need roughly 10 days to recover, so the club placed him on the 15-day DL, retroactive to June 20. His injury opened a roster spot for fellow right-hander John Patterson, who was activated off the DL from his own forearm strain. Patterson started last night against the Baltimore Orioles.

Nationals general manager Jim Bowden described the Armas move as “precautionary” and said — as he did with Patterson two months ago — that the right-hander could probably pitch if the team was in the middle of a pennant race.

“We’re not really concerned about it,” Bowden said. “But like Patterson, let’s get the forearm completely healthy and go back out there. This is not a major setback. This is just two starts, and with an off-day [Monday] it’s really one and a half.”

Armas (6-4 record, 4.44 ERA) failed to make it out of the fourth inning in each of his last two starts.

With Patterson and Armas swapping spots, the rest of the Nationals rotation (including rookies Mike O’Connor and Shawn Hill) will remain intact, though the Nationals have reconfigured the pitching schedule.

O’Connor will now start today. Livan Hernandez will start tomorrow’s finale against Baltimore. Ramon Ortiz will face Toronto Tuesday with Hill following the next day.

First-rounder signs

The Nationals signed right-hander Colton Willems, one of their two first-round draft picks, yesterday and made immediate plans to have him start pitching for their rookie-level Gulf Coast League team.

Willems, the 22nd overall selection out of John Carroll Catholic High School in Fort Pierce, Fla., received a $1.425 million signing bonus. The 17-year-old went 7-1 with an 0.68 ERA and allowed just 19 hits in 511/3 innings this year.

Bowden also made a new offer to outfielder Chris Marrero, the club’s other first-round pick (15th overall), and is optimistic a deal can be worked out.

Johnson update

Nick Johnson missed his fifth straight game with a strained lower back, and manager Frank Robinson suggested the first baseman may not return to the lineup until Tuesday.

Johnson, who originally hurt himself swinging last Saturday against the New York Yankees, said he’d defer to his manager’s decision.

“I’ll come in [today], check the lineup like I always do,” Johnson said. “I’ll be ready to go out whenever he puts me in there.”

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

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