- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 17, 2006

For the final two weeks of the season, expect uncertainty when it comes to the Washington Nationals’ pitching rotation.

The Nationals have six starting pitchers for five spots. For now, that odd man out is left-hander Billy Traber. Rookie left-hander Mike O’Connor (3-7, 4.83 ERA) has replaced Traber as today’s starter in the series finale against the Milwaukee Brewers.

“In September, there’s no real plan — we just try and get people in to pitch here, pitch there, play here, play there,” manager Frank Robinson said. “Right now, [Traber is] going to work out of the bullpen. Who knows — a week from now or next time a turn comes around or someone else comes around, I may miss one of the other guys and put him in there and give him some innings.”

These final two weeks are all about evaluation for the last-place Nationals. The team needs to start compiling a list of pitchers who merit a spring training invitation and those who should seek employment elsewhere.

The Nationals’ starting pitching has been poor all season. Ramon Ortiz’s near-no-hitter on Labor Day against the St. Louis Cardinals was the only win by a starter in the past 25 games heading into last night’s contest against Milwaukee. Since Aug.19, the starters are 1-12 with an 8.20 ERA through Friday.

“I think they’re making decisions for next year and stuff, just trying to see people, and trying to end on a positive note,” O’Connor said.

Robinson juggled his rotation for a three-game series against the Atlanta Braves beginning tomorrow night. Right-hander Tony Armas Jr. (8-11, 5.28) will open the series, rookie right-hander Beltran Perez (0-0, 1.59) will make his first major league start Tuesday and Ortiz (10-14, 5.30) will finish the six-game homestand Wednesday.

Bowie on way back?

Nationals left-handed reliever Micah Bowie hopes to activated during the three-game series against the Braves.

Bowie, who has been on the 15-day disabled list since Aug.17 with a strain in his upper back, pitched two innings during a simulated game yesterday. Bowie said afterward he felt sore, but that was expected.

“If things feel real good within the next day or two, obviously it’s a team decision, but hopefully at that point we’ll be throwing to hitters in a game,” Bowie said.

Bowie has been a pleasant surprise for the Nationals this season since being called up July6. In 15 games, he is 0-1 with a 1.37 ERA in 192/3 innings.

“He threw the ball very freely, and mechanically he looked like he had a little strength on it, and he looked like he was at ease out there on the mound,” Robinson said.

Having Bowie back would give the Nationals’ overworked bullpen a late-season boost. Left-handers are scarce everywhere in the team’s minor league system.

“I’ve always said, and still do believe, you like to have left-handers in your rotation, but it’s not really that necessary,” Robinson said. “But it is necessary to have left-handers in your bullpen — two or three of them.”

Extra bases

Tomorrow night’s 7:05 game against the Braves is the makeup for the April 22 rainout, the first rainout at RFK Stadium in the Nationals’ two-year history. …

Catcher Brian Schneider’s first-inning, run-scoring double last night tied his career-high 10-game hitting streak. Schneider also posted a 10-game streak last season from July28 to Aug.17.

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