- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 21, 2007

It would come as no surprise if Washington Nationals first baseman Dmitri Young is removed from the lineup hours before a game in the next 10 days as a result of a deal at the trade deadline.

So it was curious when Young was a late scratch before last night’s game against Colorado at RFK Stadium. However, Young simply was getting a start off after suffering a bruised left heel while running out a grounder in the Nationals‘ series this week against Houston.

Young grounded out as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning last night.

“He’s just day-to-day,” Washington general manager Jim Bowden said. “He’s got a little bruise on the heel. It’s a precautionary measure, that’s all.”

It certainly gave Young, who was hitting .341 with a .521 slugging percentage, a chance to rest. Yet it also provided some insurance to the Nationals for their most marketable trade commodity less than two weeks before the annual non-waiver deadline.

The switch-hitter is one of baseball’s most pleasant surprises, signing with Washington in February just as spring training was about to commence. He turned into the Nationals‘ most consistent offensive player, reviving his career at age 33 while providing Washington with trade bait to help replenish its farm system.

Assuming the injury isn’t serious, chances are the next time Young is yanked from the lineup it will mean he will have some change of address forms to fill out — as could other veterans as Washington builds for the future.

“We know what the plan is over here,” manager Manny Acta said. “Having those guys over here is nice and they’re helping, but where is it taking us right now? We know that the ultimate goal here is to build a championship-caliber ball club.”

Simontacchi to the DL

The Nationals placed starter Jason Simontacchi (6-7, 6.37 ERA) on the disabled list retroactive to July 16, and are expected to recall right-hander Chris Booker from Class AAA Columbus today to take his spot on the roster.

Simontacchi was scratched from his turn last night with right elbow tendinitis, but he might miss only one more start. Because of Monday’s off day, the next time the Nationals will need a fifth starter is July 28. The team also has July 30 off, potentially pushing the No. 5 starter’s next turn to Aug. 4.

Booker is 1-4 with a 3.83 ERA and 24 saves for Columbus, and appeared in 10 games for Washington last season.

Hill’s pain-free session

Right-hander Shawn Hill, shelved since a May 11 start with a left shoulder strain, threw 40 pitches in a bullpen session yesterday.

Hill, who was 3-3 with a 2.70 ERA before the injury, is expected to throw batting practice at Class A Potomac as the next step in his rehabilitation process.

“It wasn’t sharp or anything like that, but it didn’t hurt,” Hill said. “It was nice and easy with no pain, so I can’t complain.”

Escobar on hold

Outfielder Alex Escobar (right shoulder surgery in September 2006) won’t return to the Nationals just yet.

The team halted Escobar’s 20-day rehabilitation assignment, during which he hit .157 (8-for-51) with Class A Potomac, Class AA Harrisburg and Class AAA Columbus. However, Acta said the Nationals didn’t think he was throwing adequately enough to play the outfield in the majors.

“He’s going down to Florida up until he’s closer,” Acta said. “His arm has not made as much progress as we wanted to. We’ll use those last five days of rehab when we feel he’s closer to join us up here.”

Escobar’s star-crossed career is littered with injuries. He missed all of 2002 and 2005, and played only 76 games last year between the majors and minors because of hamstring and shoulder problems.

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