- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2007

ATLANTA — Kory Casto made it to the major leagues in part because of his patience at the plate. The Washington Nationals rookie outfielder always has been willing to take pitches, work the count and not kill himself with poor selection.

One week into his big league career, Casto is learning the downside of that approach because of a stark difference between the two levels of competition.

“Big league pitchers get ahead of you,” he said. “That’s what they want to do: get ahead of you so they can go to their out pitch. So right now, I’ve been getting behind in the count a little bit.”

The result was a difficult week at the plate for Casto, who entered last night’s game against the Atlanta Braves with a .174 overall average and only two hits in his last 14 at-bats.

Nationals manager Manny Acta gave his rookie the night off and started Chris Snelling in his place in left field. Acta said the temporary lineup swap had more to do with Snelling than Casto.

“We’ve got to get this kid some at-bats, too,” the manager said. “He’s only 25 years old. We’re trying to find out about both of them.”

Acta will continue to put Casto out there on a regular basis, hoping he benefits from the experience and learns how to better approach big league pitching.

“I think he’ll figure it out,” Acta said. “This is not like the minor leagues. Guys here do throw more strikes. So he’s going to have to probably sometimes change his approach, depending on who’s on the mound. … When a guy’s on top of his game over here, you only get one, sometimes two pitches to hit. And if you don’t hit them, they’re going to put you away.”

Despite the early struggles, Casto hasn’t gotten down on himself.

“Through six games, I don’t think you can put a lot of investment into it,” he said. “… But it’s time to start picking it up. And after having a week under my belt, hopefully I’ll be able to do that.”

Fruto shines

In contrast to their big league pitching troubles, the Nationals have gotten some impressive work from their minor league starters during the last week, particularly right-hander Emiliano Fruto.

Fruto, who spent all of spring training working out of the bullpen, shifted to the rotation at Class AAA Columbus and tossed six innings of no-hit ball in his season debut Monday against Louisville.

The 22-year-old, acquired from Seattle with Snelling for second baseman Jose Vidro, struck out five and walked two. He will continue to build up his arm strength, but his command of three pitches (fastball, slider, changeup) could land him a spot in the major league rotation before long.

Extra bases

The Nationals swapped minor league infielders with the Philadelphia Phillies. Washington acquired Brent Abernathy from Class AAA Ottawa for future considerations. Joe Thurston, who had been released by the Nationals after failing to make the club out of spring training, signed with Ottawa. …

Several players have been battling a virus for several days. Ryan Church was the first to come down with flu-like symptoms, but it has spread to Ryan Zimmerman, Austin Kearns, John Patterson and Matt Chico. None of the players was sick enough to be sent home, but several looked listless before the game.

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