- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 14, 2006

ATLANTA — The Washington Nationals placed starting catcher Brian Schneider on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left hamstring and recalled utilityman Robert Fick from his rehab assignment and reinstated him to the club’s 25-man roster.

This is the first time in Schneider’s major league and minor league career he has gone on the DL.

“I understand the decision,” Schneider said. “Of course, I never want to be on the DL and I feel terrible being on the DL because I get paid to play baseball, not to be on the DL. I don’t think it’s really settled in yet because I’ve never had to do this and I feel very bad being on it because I want to be here for the team.”

Schneider started experiencing hamstring problems last Saturday at RFK Stadium against Pittsburgh, when he pulled himself from the game in the seventh inning. He took the next three days off and played against Cincinnati on Wednesday, when he went 2-for-4 with a double, RBI and a run.

After the game, Schneider said his hamstring tightened up again. The Nationals listed him as day-to-day until the latest announcement. Schneider, whose DL stint is retroactive to May 11, will be eligible to come off the DL on May 26, when the Los Angeles Dodgers visit RFK.

Fick, who can play catcher, first base and the outfield, opened the season on the DL after undergoing right elbow surgery to remove bone chips during spring training. Fick’s 20-day rehab assignment was scheduled to end Wednesday. Fick had his rehab assignment at Class AA Harrisburg interrupted when he was brought back to Washington to have his right shoulder examined from April 25 to May 4.

Fick returned to the Senators and hit .286 (12-for-42) with a double, home run, RBI and eight runs in 12 games. Thursday, Fick was transferred to Class AAA New Orleans and hit just .143 (1-for-7) with a walk and two strikeouts in two games with the Zephyrs.

During his rehab assignment, Fick played three games at first base, five at catcher, two in right field, one in left field, and three games as a designated hitter.

Look who’s in center

As soon as he arrived in Turner Field’s visitors’ clubhouse, utility infielder Marlon Anderson checked manager Frank Robinson’s lineup card to see if he was in the starting lineup.

It wasn’t, but that didn’t stop Anderson from announcing, “There’s a Church sighting.”

Indeed there was. Batting fifth and playing center field was Ryan Church.

Anderson wasn’t done. He folllowed his opening line with “At least you’re well-rested.”

Since Church was recalled from New Orleans on April 13, the 27-year-old outfielder has played sparingly, starting just 13 of 26 games. Coming into last night, Church was batting .250 in 48 at-bats with four home runs, nine RBI and a .390 on-base percentage.

“You’ve just got to be ready. You never know,” said Church, who went 1-for-3 with two walks last night. “You don’t want to go out there because your timing and everything is all off. I’ve already seen it. I’ve been jammed the last two times I hit, but I feel good. It’s just getting the whole feel back.”

Part of the reason for Church’s relegation to bench duty is Marlon Byrd’s ability to get on base. Byrd was the Nationals’ leadoff hitter when Alfonso Soriano was moved to the No. 3 spot in the batting order. Byrd is batting .250 with a .388 on-base percentage, and is hitting .313 (20-for-64) on the road.

Church was also bedridden with a nasty viral infection he picked up two weeks ago in St. Louis, another reason for his demotion. Last season, when Church didn’t play consistently, he struggled when he got his opportunity. Robinson said he sees that with Byrd, also.

“Both of them can’t play consistently,” Robinson said of his center fielders. “[Byrd] produced when he’s played on a consistent basis.”

Astacio’s schedule

Injured right-hander Pedro Astacio is slowly coming along from a right forearm strain that forced him to open the season on the DL.

Astacio threw pain-free for seven minutes in a side session Friday. As a result, Astacio has been given a schedule that may have him throwing a live bullpen session this week in Chicago, when the Nationals visit Wrigley Field to take on the Cubs.

“I’m going to throw two more sides and after that I’m going to throw some BP and then we move forward after that,” Astacio said. “I’m going to do two bullpens — the second day [Tuesday] in Chicago and then the first day [Friday] when we come home.”

It’s getting old

Losing isn’t taking it’s toll, but it hasn’t been much fun for the 70-year-old Robinson.

The Nationals (12-24) have won just three series this season and split two. After 36 games last year, they had seven more victories and were better in virtually every statistical category than this season.

The Nationals spent nearly three months in first place in the National League East and were in the playoff chase until the final week of the season.

But Robinson said he’s not losing sleep over the poor start.

“I feel good,” Robinson said. “Does it keep me up at nights? No. It just wakes me up early in the mornings. Consciously, I don’t take it home to the point where it keeps me up. I go back home and within an hour I go might go to sleep.”

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