- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 2, 2006

NEW YORK — Mike O’Connor doesn’t seem to be fazed by much, so the prospect of facing the New York Mets at Shea Stadium tonight barely registers as a blip on the rookie left-hander’s radar screen.

“If I go out there and make my pitches, I can get guys out,” he said. “It doesn’t really change a whole lot up here.”

O’Connor makes his second career start tonight against a Mets lineup every bit as daunting as the St. Louis Cardinals team he faced in his debut Thursday. The 25-year-old, who a year ago was pitching in Class A, handled that assignment with the poise of a veteran.

He allowed four unearned runs in the first inning, a result of Ryan Zimmerman’s two-out error, but rebounded impressively and kept the Cardinals from scoring again until he departed after the fifth.

Asked in hindsight what he thought was most encouraging about his debut, O’Connor said: “Just getting through five innings, I guess.”

Perhaps he will set some higher standards for himself tonight now that he’s had time to get better acquainted with his big league surroundings. Manager Frank Robinson isn’t worried about the kid succumbing to the pressure of pitching in the Big Apple.

“This is just another stop, playing in another city,” Robinson said. “The [Mets’] lineup is a very frightening lineup, but I don’t think it will faze him in that respect.”

Short-handed squad

The Nationals weren’t exactly able to throw their full arsenal at the Mets last night. Robinson had only 22 active and healthy players at his disposal against New York’s 25-man roster.

Reliever Felix Rodriguez began serving his three-game suspension for intentionally hitting Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca last month.

Third baseman Zimmerman was in Detroit for his grandmother’s funeral.

And outfielder Ryan Church was unavailable for the third straight game because of a virus he came down with in St. Louis over the weekend.

“I felt like I was on the deathbed,” he said.

Church, at least, was back in the Washington clubhouse after being quarantined to his hotel room the past two days. He participated in some pregame workouts but wasn’t available for the game. He might be able to pinch-hit tonight.

Marlon Byrd started in Church’s place in center field for the third straight game and was bumped up to the leadoff spot after a strong showing over the last week.

Byrd could remain there if he keeps it up. Robinson would like for someone to establish himself as a reliable leadoff man so he can afford to bat Alfonso Soriano in the heart of the lineup. Last night, Soriano hit third for only the second time this season, with Nick Johnson hitting cleanup and slumping Jose Guillen dropped to fifth.

Robinson may not be done tweaking his batting order.

“We’ll be having changes in the lineup as long as it gives us a chance to win ballgames,” he said.

Extra bases

Catcher Wiki Gonzalez and outfielder Tyrell Godwin both cleared waivers and have been outrighted to Class AAA New Orleans. Gonzalez was designated for assignment April 26 to make room on the roster for pitcher Zach Day. Godwin was designated the following day to make room for O’Connor. …

Cristian Guzman went 2-for-5 with an RBI yesterday in an extended spring training game against the Mets in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Guzman, on the disabled list with a partially torn labrum in his right shoulder, is expected to begin a rehabilitation assignment shortly at Class AAA New Orleans. …

Zimmerman’s four home runs in April were a Nationals franchise rookie record.



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