- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 21, 2006

At one time, the New York Mets envisioned outfielder Alex Escobar being close to what they have in center field these days — Carlos Beltran.

That never happened.

Escobar was once touted as a speedy, power-hitting center fielder with unlimited potential and regarded as one of baseball’s top prospects. But an injury-riddled career has Escobar running out of chances. The clock keeps ticking every season and Escobar keeps getting hurt.

The Washington Nationals are giving Escobar, 26, another shot to prove he belongs in the major leagues. Following Friday’s 5-1 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, the Nationals purchased Escobar’s contract from Class AA Harrisburg and optioned slumping outfielder Ryan Church to Harrisburg.

Nationals manager Frank Robinson immediately inserted Escobar into his starting lineup last night, where he batted sixth and went 2-for-4 with a run scored and an error. After missing all of last season with a fractured right foot that required a surgically implanted screw to hold it together, Escobar said he can’t think about getting hurt, even though injuries have curtailed his high expectations.

“I don’t even think about injuries anymore,” said Escobar, who hit .298 with eight doubles, four home runs, and 19 RBI in 28 games for the Senators. “If I think about it, I won’t play to my level.”

Escobar’s injuries started in 1999, while in the Mets’ farm system. That year, Escobar began the season on the 15-day disabled list with a fractured vertebra and then underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in July. Escobar missed the entire 2002 season after tearing his left ACL.

In 2004, with the Cleveland Indians and Class AAA Buffalo, Escobar played in just 62 games because of a fractured right foot. The Nationals acquired Escobar in a February 2005 trade with the Chicago White Sox for outfielder Jerry Owens. Last spring, Escobar hurt his foot during spring training and missed the entire season.

With the Nationals struggling and new ownership committed to a youth movement, Escobar could be in the club’s future plans with a good showing on this callup.

“We’ve been watching a lot of outfielders not perform, so we’re going to keep giving players opportunities to try and find out of somebody else wants to have some success up here and stay up here,” Nationals general manager Jim Bowden said. “His on-base percentage was close to .440 down there. He’s been healthy for one of the first times in his career. I can’t tell you what we expect of him. I know he’s been a solid player, he’s a good defensive player.”

Patterson’s possibilities

Last week, injured right-hander John Patterson (1-0, 3.86 ERA) pegged June 1 as a possible return date. Patterson has spent the last month on the disabled list.

Despite Patterson’s showing gradual improvement with inflammation in his right forearm, Bowden disagreed with that projection.

“No, but I certainly think that he will be available to make a rehab assignment around then and the first 10 days of June realistically,” Bowden said. “I’ll be surprised if he’s not ready at that point.”

The Nationals placed Patterson on the 15-day DL April 28 (retroactive to April 22) with a right forearm strain. Patterson, who was projected to be the rotation’s No.2 starter this season, has started just four games this season after a breakout season last year.

Idle on the DL

Nationals catcher Brian Schneider had not been placed on the DL at any time during his baseball career (both minor and major leagues) before this season. Robinson said his everyday catcher is not accepting his inactivity very well.

“I don’t even talk to him, he’s not handling it very well,” Robinson said. “I think he understands why we did it, but he’s about at the end of his wits, I’ll tell you that.”

Schneider, who was placed on the 15-day DL May 13 with a strained left hamstring, is eligible to come off the DL on Friday.

“It stinks,” Schneider said. “It’s not easy because I’ve never been on it [DL]. You come out here every day and get your work in like you usually do, and then have to sit there the whole game and look on the scorecard and not even see your name in it, it’s weird. You’re helpless. If you want to play baseball, that’s the place you don’t want to be on: The DL.”

Robinson a doctor

Robinson received an honorary degree in public service yesterday from George Washington University in recognition of his success as a player, manager, and role model at GW’s commencement weekend on the national mall.

Former president George H.W. Bush and former First Lady Barbara Bush served as the keynote speakers. It was the first honorary degree Robinson has ever received.

“That’s not the type of doctorate it is, it doesn’t make you smart,” Robinson jokingly said before last night’s game.

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