- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 31, 2006

PHILADELPHIA — When Ryan Church was sent down to the minors on May 19, the Washington Nationals hoped someone else from their stable of center fielders would emerge from the pack and seize the everyday job.

So far, they’ve had no luck.

The Nationals have started three players (Alex Escobar, Damian Jackson and Marlon Byrd) in center field in the last 12 days and none has risen to the occasion. Escobar strained his hamstring and went on the disabled list after just two games. Jackson had a few big moments before reverting back to his old self. Byrd remains an enigma.

“We’ve gotten some production, just not consistent production over a period of time,” manager Frank Robinson said, adding that “we just don’t have what I call a true center fielder here.”

Of the three, Byrd looked like the logical choice to emerge. But in a recurring theme of his career, the 28-year-old hasn’t played with any consistency (three homers, eight RBI in 45 games), though he did hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning of last night’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies.

He had just three hits in his last 17 at-bats before last night, which prompted Robinson to bump him down to the No. 8 spot in the lineup.

“I’ve done it before,” Byrd said. “It’s better than being below that. Eighth, it doesn’t matter. I do what I can all the time. I try to produce. Sometimes it doesn’t happen. Sometimes it does.”

The Nationals’ patience with Byrd may be running thin. Robinson said the organization doesn’t necessarily look at him as a potential long-term solution anymore.

“He’s beyond the point where you say: ‘We’ve just got to give him time [to prove himself],’ ” the manager said. “Show me. Earn it. Earn the spot. That’s the point we are with him now.”

Injury updates

The Nationals sent relievers Joey Eischen and Santiago Ramirez back to Washington yesterday for MRIs.

Eischen, who battled left shoulder tendinitis earlier this season, will have it re-examined today by team orthopedist Ben Shaffer. Ramirez, just promoted from Class AAA New Orleans last week, will also visit Shaffer after complaining of right elbow soreness after Monday night’s game.

If Eischen is found to have a more serious injury, it could explain his first two months of the season. After walking the only two batters he faced Monday, the veteran lefty has an 8.59 ERA and 19 walks in only 142/3 innings.

Meanwhile, right-hander John Patterson — on the 15-day disabled list since April 21 with a strained forearm — threw a two-inning simulated game yesterday and is closer to beginning a minor-league rehab assignment.

Patterson threw 30 pitches to live hitters along with about 70 warm-up pitches and reported no arm problems. He’ll pitch in another simulated game Friday, then likely make a rehab start next week, with a mid-June return to the Washington rotation targeted.

Finally, left-hander Mike O’Connor, who left Monday’s game after getting hit by a line drive in the left ankle, said he feels fine and will be able to start Saturday as scheduled.

All-Star voting update

The first results from All-Star balloting are in, and Nationals left fielder Alfonso Soriano ranks fifth among National League outfielders.

Soriano, who leads the Nationals with 18 homers, 35 RBI and 12 stolen bases, has 263,373 votes. That’s about 53,000 behind the fourth-place vote-getter (Ken Griffey Jr.) and about 60,000 votes behind Jim Edmonds for third place. Andruw Jones (420,462) and Carlos Beltran (341,769) rank first and second among NL outfielders.

Soriano is the only Washington player ranked in the top five at any position. Voting continues at ballparks through June 24 and online through June 29.

Final rosters will be announced July 2.

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

submit a question, go to the Sports Page

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