- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 4, 2006

VIERA, Fla. — Already battling a spate of injuries, the Washington Nationals received their worst spring training news yesterday: Right fielder Jose Guillen may miss three months with a damaged tendon in his left wrist.

Guillen will seek a second opinion today from a hand specialist in Baltimore, but the doctor who examined him yesterday in Florida recommended he undergo surgery that would keep him out until at least mid-June.

That wasn’t the kind of news Guillen — who played through a bad shoulder injury last season — wanted to hear, and he insisted he again wants to play through the pain and not face surgery.

“This is not even close to what I was going through last year,” he said. “This is not even close. That was a reconstructed shoulder. … I’m not worried about this. I can go and hit the [expletive] out of the ball right now. The only problem I have is the swelling that I have there.”

The Nationals will let Guillen seek the second opinion from Thomas Graham, chief of the Curtis National Hand Center in Baltimore, but management is cautioning him from trying to play if he’s not healthy.

Manager Frank Robinson, speaking in Bradenton, Fla., following Washington’s 6-4 exhibition loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, noted Guillen was not the same player last year when he tried to play through his left shoulder injury that required offseason surgery.

“I know how bad it is, as a hitter, when something’s wrong with your hands or your wrist,” he said. “Especially your lead hand. And I know with his shoulder last year, it affected his swing. It had a lot to do with him struggling in the second half. So I would caution him against this. If the second opinion is for surgery, I would strongly recommend that he do it, get back here and get healthy.”

Because of his shoulder rehabilitation, Guillen, 29, had yet to participate in full drills this spring. He took live batting practice for the first time Wednesday, though, and that may have been the trigger to his wrist injury (although he said he first started noticing a problem a few weeks ago during weight training).

With the Nationals’ primary physician, Bruce Thomas, in Japan working at the World Baseball Classic, Guillen was examined Thursday by Viera doctor Edward St. Mary. X-rays and an MRI revealed he has tenosynovitis of the extensor tendon in his left wrist, and St. Mary recommended surgery.

“With as much as he’s been doing, and with him trying to protect that shoulder, maybe he was trying to swing with one hand too much and he overworked it,” Robinson said. “That’s a big blow. That’s a big blow to this team and to this offense if he’s out that long.”

Guillen led the Nationals in most offensive categories last season: home runs (24), RBI (76), runs (81), hits (156) and total bases (264), though much of that came during the first half of the season before he hurt his shoulder. It won’t be easy to replace his production, but general manager Jim Bowden said help likely will have to come from the inside.

“Guys within the organization have a chance to step up and win the job,” Bowden said. “This is how players are found, through opportunities. Injuries do create opportunities.”

One name that was immediately raised upon news of Guillen’s injury was free agent Sammy Sosa, who was in talks with the Nationals last month about a nonguaranteed major league deal. Bowden, though, said negotiations with Sosa will not be reopened, and described contract talks as “dead.”

Guillen’s injury does, however, put added pressure on Washington to play Alfonso Soriano in left field, despite the slugger’s unwillingness to play the position.

“It’s not going to take one guy,” second baseman Jose Vidro said. “It’s going to take a lot more than that. I think for us to be successful now without him, we’ve got to stay together. Hopefully, Soriano can decide to play in the outfield and he can be the guy. Now we need Soriano to play the outfield for this team to be the same as last year’s.”

In-house candidates to replace Guillen in right field include Ryan Church, Marlon Byrd and Michael Tucker, and club sources suggested yesterday that Church would be the likely answer with rookie Brandon Watson in center field.

“It’s a big blow. That’s a big bat,” said Church, who hit a two-run homer in yesterday’s game. “Hopefully the other guys can fill in and get the job done. If it’s me, I’ll keep it warm until he gets back.”

Guillen’s injury is only the latest to hit the Nationals through the first two weeks of spring training. Right-hander Brian Lawrence already has undergone season-ending shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff, and utility man Robert Fick will have surgery Monday to remove bone chips from his right elbow.

“It just seems like we keep taking punches after punches,” Robinson said. “We keep getting hit and hit, but we’re still standing.”

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