- The Washington Times - Friday, September 22, 2006

NEW YORK — There’s not much left for Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson to evaluate over the season’s final eight days. He has seen just about every position player enough to make sound judgments and he knows plenty about the makeup of his veteran starting pitchers and most of his bullpen.

In fact, there are perhaps only two key figures on the Nationals roster who can still make an impression as this season winds down: rookie pitchers Beltran Perez and Mike O’Connor.

Each will get his shot. Robinson said yesterday that he’ll keep his current five-man starting rotation intact for the rest of the season, meaning Perez and O’Connor will make two more starts each, joining Ramon Ortiz, Pedro Astacio and Tony Armas Jr.

The latter three, all free agents this winter, don’t have much left to prove to the Nationals. For Perez and O’Connor, though, these last two starts could go a long way toward determining their roles in 2007.

“You’re looking at different things this time of year,” Robinson said before Washington opened a three-game series against the New York Mets. “You’re not just looking at winning. It’s how they handle themselves. What pitches are they throwing to get hitters out in certain situations? All that goes into it now.”

O’Connor (3-7, 4.72 ERA but with a 1.64 ERA in three appearances since rejoining the club) will start today at Shea Stadium and again Thursday against the Philadelphia Phillies. Perez, who tossed six shutout innings in his first career start earlier this week, is scheduled to start Monday in New York and again next Saturday against the Mets at RFK.

Robinson doesn’t want to put too much stock in Perez’s performances in late September against expanded rosters. But the manager also said the young right-hander’s success shouldn’t be totally discounted.

“I like the way the kid handled himself,” Robinson said. “I like the way he challenged hitters. No walks. That tells you something any time.”

Extra bases

The inclusion of Perez and O’Connor in the rotation means right-hander Jason Bergmann and lefty Billy Traber will remain in the bullpen the rest of the season. Bergmann has considerable experience there, but Traber does not. Robinson, though, said he doesn’t look at the lefty as a long-term reliever.

“It’s not in my thoughts. I just think with his makeup and his pitches, he’s more suited for starting,” Robinson added. …

Alfonso Soriano had a party thrown for him by rapper Jay-Z at the latter’s 40/40 Club in Manhattan on Thursday night to celebrate Soriano’s recent home runs/stolen bases feat. About half the Nationals’ players, plus several club employees, attended.

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