- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 11, 2006

CINCINNATI — When Washington Nationals right-hander Zach Day takes the mound tonight in his hometown, he’ll have about 75 friends and relatives cheering for him at the Great American Ball Park.

This city on the banks of the Ohio River is where Day grew up and graduated from La Salle High School. A standout in basketball, baseball, and golf, Day was Cincinnati’s prep player of the year in 1995.

This return trip has a special meaning for the sinkerball specialist. He’ll get to spend time with his family, which has been through a lot recently.

In late January, Day’s 57-year-old mother, Bonnie Day, donated one of her kidneys to Day’s sister, Erin, 25, to keep her alive. Day’s mother had a difficult time recovering from the operation.

“My sister and my mom are doing a lot better,” said Day, who lives in Cincinnati during the offseason. “It took a while for my mom to recover from it, but my sister is doing good. I think she is going to be at the game on Thursday — both [mother and sister] — which will be good.”

Day could do little to provide emotional support for his mother and sister because he had to report early to the Colorado Rockies’ spring training camp in Tucson, Ariz.

“It just takes longer for the donor to recover to adjust to having one kidney, and it’s a pretty tough surgery as far as going in and taking the kidney out,” Day said. “It was tough. It put a pretty good strain on my family as far as my dad having to do a lot more, and everybody in the family had to kick in more. My grandma and grandpa live next door. My aunts and uncles pitched in. They took turns coming out and watching the kids and helping my mom, who has her own business. So everybody had to pitch in. That’s why I will probably never leave this city, just because the family ties are just so strong.”

Day’s relationship to the Nationals organization is strong as well. Day broke into the big leagues with the Montreal Expos in 2002 and was rated as one of the franchise’s top prospects. But desperate for a middle of the order bat to bolster their offensive numbers last season, the Nationals traded Day and outfielder J.J. Davis to Colorado for outfielder Preston Wilson and cash July 13.

The Nationals claimed Day off waivers from the Rockies on April27, and Day has gone 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA in two starts. Overall, Day is 2-3 with a 7.11 ERA.

Day, who was on the Nationals’ inaugural Opening Day roster, made 12 appearances (five starts) for the club last season before being placed on the 15-day disabled list May31 with a hairline fracture in his right arm suffered when he was hit by a line drive. Day was on rehab assignment at Class AA Harrisburg when the Nationals traded him to Colorado.

Manager Frank Robinson has noticed a difference in Day since the pitcher returned to the team and resumed workouts with pitching coach Randy St. Claire, who was the Expos’ pitching coach when Day broke into the majors in 2002.

“There’s some little subtle things I see about him,” Robinson said. “He looks more at ease on the mound, not as much tension when he’s out there. He seems to be throwing the ball with a lot less effort. Yeah, Randy has worked with him [before], but he’s also worked with him with his mechanics, his delivery, and it just seems it takes a lot less effort for him to make pitches.”

LeCroy chips in

Backup catcher Matthew LeCroy has done a solid job filling in lately for Brian Schneider. The Nationals are 3-2 with LeCroy behind the plate. LeCroy has been pressed into duty with Schneider missing the two games before last night’s with a tight left hamstring. Schneider was back in the lineup last night and hitting seventh.

In his last three games, LeCroy is 5-for-11 (.455) with two doubles and a homer. The Nationals signed LeCroy in the offseason primarily to serve as a right-handed bat off the bench. With catcher/first baseman Robert Fick currently rehabbing at Harrisburg, LeCroy is the only backup catcher the Nationals have.

“Excellent, excellent, I think he’s done very good behind the plate with play calling, selection of pitches, and moving the ball around in the strike zone,” Robinson said.

For the past three seasons, LeCroy was mostly a designated hitter for the Minnesota Twins. LeCroy, who also can play first base, said it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he can handle catching duties.

“I came up as a catcher and had some pretty good experience with Minnesota, some good pitching staffs” said LeCroy, who is hitting .281 for the season. “Last year I only caught one inning, but the year before I caught 20 or so games. I like doing it and I just enjoy being back there.”

Scoring change

Rookie third baseman Ryan Zimmerman didn’t make an error after all in the eighth inning of Tuesday night’s game. Reds pinch hitter Chris Denorfia’s hard grounder into the hole originally was scored as an error after Zimmerman dived to his left and failed to throw out Denorfia at first.

Upon review yesterday, Denorfia was given a hit on the play and what would have been Zimmerman’s fourth error of the season was erased. Reliever Mike Stanton’s line changed as well. Stanton pitched the eighth inning and allowed one hit.

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