- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 31, 2006

PHILADELPHIA — Washington Nationals reliever Joey Eischen will undergo surgery today to repair a tear in his left rotator cuff, a procedure that will end his season and possibly jeopardize his career.

An MRI taken yesterday in the District revealed Eischen has “a thickness tear of one of his left rotator cuff muscles,” according to the club. He was immediately placed on the 60-day disabled list, and the Nationals plan to purchase the contract of left-hander Bill Bray from Class AAA New Orleans in time for tomorrow’s game in Milwaukee.

Eischen, 36, faces a lengthy rehabilitation from his surgery, perhaps a year or longer. Given his advanced age and history of other arm problems, there’s a chance he might never return.

“At this stage of his career, you don’t know if this could be the end of it,” manager Frank Robinson said. “This is a real serious one. This operation, it takes a while to come back from it.”

Eischen, speaking by phone from Washington, vowed to be back on the mound by spring training.

“It’s going to happen,” he said. “They say 12 months. I never, ever don’t beat those deadlines. I work harder than the other guys. I’ve always healed good. I’ll do the work I need to do.”

Eischen’s unparalleled work ethic might have contributed to this latest ailment. After battling through an injury-plagued 2005 season, he went full bore this spring and hurt his shoulder on the first day of camp. He revealed later that he had tendinitis in the shoulder but insisted he could pitch through it, saying, “We’ll bite the bullet, put the mouthpiece in and go at her till she blows out.”

She blew out faster than Eischen would have liked. In 22 games this season, he posted an 8.59 ERA, walking 19 batters in 142/3 innings. Following his last appearance Monday, when he walked both batters he faced, Eischen was shut down and sent to the District to be examined. Team orthopedist Ben Shaffer discovered the muscle in Eischen’s shoulder was completely torn off the bone.

“I knew I wasn’t right in spring,” he said. “But my stuff was still good enough to get people out. I kept playing and wanted to compete and help the team out. But the last couple outings, it’s just not indicative of the way I pitch.”

Even though Robinson had a hunch something wasn’t right with Eischen’s arm, he continued to show faith in the veteran lefty. Yesterday’s news left the manager emotional.

“That just goes to show you what kind of heart this guy has and the warrior that he is to go out, take the ball and pitch,” Robinson said.

Eischen’s injury does open the door for Bray, one of the organization’s top prospects who team officials said has been ready for some time. Bray, the 2004 first-round pick from William & Mary, was 4-1 with a five saves and a 3.98 ERA in 312/3 innings at New Orleans.

Vidro slumping

Second baseman Jose Vidro went 0-for-5 yesterday, making him hitless in his last 16 at-bats and raising questions about his health status.

Vidro was leading the National League with a .349 average last weekend but since has dropped to .319. He appeared to hurt his knee diving to catch a throw during Saturday’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers and has not been running as well since.

“I know it’s barking a little bit, but I don’t know if that’s the reason why [he’s struggling],” Robinson said.

Vidro, who battled knee injuries the previous two seasons, insists he’s not hurt.

“My knee’s fine,” he said. “I’m just struggling right now. I’m not able to put good wood on the bat. But [today is] a day off, that will help me and I’ll be back on Friday with no problems.”

Ramirez OK

Reliever Santiago Ramirez, who also underwent an MRI in Washington yesterday, appears to be fine and will rejoin the club tomorrow in Milwaukee.

The right-handed rookie joined Eischen on the trip home after complaining of a sore elbow following Monday’s game. He was diagnosed with a strained flexor tendon and is day-to-day.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To

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