- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 7, 2006

As long as Washington outfielder Marlon Byrd keeps finding ways to get on base, he’ll remain the leadoff hitter and the Nationals will have solved one of their most pressing issues heading into this season.

That also would get Alfonso Soriano out of the top spot and into a role where he could drive in more runs. For the sixth straight game, manager Frank Robinson had Soriano batting in the No. 3 spot last night against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Byrd, who was given the night off until he struck out as a pinch-hitter to end the game, had a .262 batting average and .423 on-base percentage through Friday. Of the club’s regular players, only first baseman Nick Johnson gets aboard more frequently than Byrd.

“Right now, I like inserting [Soriano] into the third spot, and Byrd’s going to be in a lot of games, and he’s going to lead off when he is,” Robinson said. “I would say the majority of the time that [Byrd] starts right now, for the very near future, he’ll probably hit leadoff.”

Heading into spring training, the Nationals leadoff job was a major question mark. Center fielder Brandon Watson was given the first opportunity and won the job with a solid spring. In fact, Watson’s performance during spring training was the reason outfielder Ryan Church, who led off last night, opened the season at Class AAA New Orleans.

In spring training, Watson was hitting the opposite way, drag bunting and taking pitches, but he failed to perform at the major league level once the season began and hit just .179 in nine games before being sent back to New Orleans on April 13.

“No, I thought I was going to be the fourth outfielder and that’s it,” Byrd said when asked if he envisioned being the leadoff man coming out of spring training. “I thought Brandon Watson was going to do his thing and be in the leadoff role, but things change during the season.”

For the first month, Soriano batted in the top spot 15 times. With the left-handed hitting Church, Robinson even has the luxury of platooning his leadoff men, depending on whether a right-hander or left-hander is on the mound. However, he has ruled out a platoon system between Byrd and Church.

“I talked with Frank the other day and he said ‘Byrdie was swinging it good and we’ve got to ride him out,’” said Church, who entered last night’s game batting .256 with a .385 on-base percentage. “I totally understood and told him that I would be ready.”

Patterson pushed back

Right-hander John Patterson’s next rehab start has been moved back to Saturday. Patterson had been scheduled to make a rehab start tomorrow in Woodbridge, Va., for the Class A Potomac Nationals but has lingering tenderness in his arm.

The club was undecided on where Patterson would pitch Saturday. He has been on the disabled list since April 28 with a forearm strain.

Anderson update

The injury to pinch-hitter Marlon Anderson apparently looked worse than it was.

In the seventh inning of Friday night’s 6-0 victory, Anderson crouched down in the batter’s box in obvious pain after getting hit on the right knee by a pitch from Pirates reliever Ryan Vogelsong.

Anderson was immediately taken into the Nationals clubhouse for X-rays, which came back negative. Despite being listed as day-to-day, Anderson pinch-hit in the seventh inning, hitting a flyout to left. Anderson, one of baseball’s top pinch hitters the past three seasons, is 0-for-16 with three walks and a hit-by-pitch in his last 20 pinch-hitting appearances since a seventh-inning Opening Day single at the New York Mets.

“It’s a little sore, nothing major, nothing that’s going to keep me out of a game,” Anderson said. “There’s no bruise. It’s a little stiff, or whatever, but other than that it’s fine.”

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