- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2006

The Washington Nationals signed shortstop Royce Clayton in the offseason as a mere insurance policy to push incumbent Cristian Guzman during spring training.

But with Clayton riding a nine-game hitting streak after last night, the veteran is giving the Nationals offensive production from a position where the team received almost nothing a year ago.

Clayton, who has spent parts of 16 seasons in the major leagues with eight different teams, is hitting .266. But in the 20 games since moving to the No. 2 spot in the Nationals batting order, Clayton has hit 26-for-77 (.338) — a major improvement from his .273 average as the No. 8 hitter and .182 average at No. 7.

“Since he moved up to the second slot, he is seeing different pitches and is enjoying that spot a little bit more because he is doing some things that we were trying to get him to do when he was hitting eighth,” manager Frank Robinson said.

Clayton, 36, said his batting average is historically low in April and May but rises dramatically in June and July. His switch to second in the order has helped that process.

In last night’s third inning, Clayton doubled just inside third base to score Alfonso Soriano and give the Nationals a 2-1 lead. In the fifth, Clayton doubled again to left, scoring Soriano. Clayton went 2-for-4 with two RBI and has 10 RBI in his last 20 games.

“When [Soriano] is on first base, I know they’re not going to throw a lot of breaking balls,” Clayton said. “If they do, that gives him a better chance to steal bases. Hitting behind him makes my job a lot easier.”

No hurry for Guillen

With the Nationals playing so well lately, the club may not be in a hurry to activate right fielder Jose Guillen off the 15-day disabled list. Guillen is eligible to come off the DL tomorrow.

Guillen began a rehab assignment last night with the Potomac Nationals and went 0-for-2. According to Robinson, he’ll play with Potomac again tonight in Frederick against the Keys.

“We’ll see how he reacts and see how he comes out of that,” Robinson said. “If he comes out of it physically OK, then it’s just a matter of him getting back in a groove — and he’s not going to get it hitting against Class A pitching, or Class AAA pitching, whatever.”

Guillen, who is hitting .212 in 39 games this season, had been rehabbing at the club’s Viera, Fla., spring training complex for about a week and a half. There is no timetable set for his return.

Pitcher update

Right-hander John Patterson will make a second rehab start Monday at an undetermined location. He has been on the DL since April 28 with a strained right forearm.

Patterson, who allowed no earned runs in his first rehab assignment Wednesday with the Potomac Nationals, believes his next rehab start will be at Class AAA New Orleans. But that could change.

Meanwhile, right-hander Pedro Astacio appears to be the injured pitcher closest to returning. Astacio is scheduled to make two more rehab starts at New Orleans and can be activated when the club feels it’s necessary.

Reliever Felix Rodriguez, who has been on the DL since May 26 (retroactive to May 20), has not been cleared to throw by the club’s physicians.

Right-hander Ryan Drese, who has been on the DL since April 14 with a strained right elbow, has just started throwing and appears to be a long way from getting activated.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To

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