- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2007

SAN DIEGO — As he left RFK Stadium two weeks ago, his first career stint in the major leagues having gone awry, Kory Casto made a point to stop in Manny Acta’s office and deliver a message to the Washington Nationals manager: “I’ll be back.”

Casto never doubted he would get another shot at the big leagues. But he was mentally prepared to spend a considerable portion of time at Class AAA Columbus to get his swing in order. So when he got the call from Clippers manager John Stearns late Sunday afternoon to pack his bags and find the next available flight to San Diego, the 25-year-old outfielder admittedly wasn’t sure how to react.

“I was kind of in shock,” he said. “I certainly wasn’t expecting it to happen this soon.”

Neither were the Nationals, who seemed content to let Chris Snelling and Michael Restovich platoon in left field for the immediate future while Casto worked to get back on track.

But it’s funny sometimes how things work out. Casto arrived in Columbus and began hitting right away. Discovering the gap-to-gap power that made him the organization’s player of the year in 2005 and 2006, he hit .324 in 10 games, slugging four homers, three doubles and driving in six runs.

And with Washington’s lineup floundering, Acta and general manager Jim Bowden felt the time was right to give Casto another shot. He caught an early morning flight from Columbus to Las Vegas, lost a couple bucks playing the slots while waiting for his connection and by mid-afternoon found himself inside the visitors’ clubhouse at Petco Park, preparing to start in left field and bat seventh against San Diego Padres ace Jake Peavy.

“He was swinging the bat real good down there, and we haven’t gotten much out of the left-field situation,” Acta said. “So why not bring him back and put him out there until everything gets back to normal?”

When Acta talks about things getting “back to normal,” he’s referring to the anticipated return of center fielder Nook Logan from a sprained left foot, something that should happen within the next week. Once that happens, Ryan Church will move back to left field, and the Nationals will face yet another important decision regarding Casto.

Do they send him back to Columbus so he can play every day and continue to progress? Or do they keep him around and try to use him as a sort of super-utility backup, getting at-bats in left field, at third and first base and off the bench?

The club will consider the latter scenario.

“The thing is he’s at that age now where we shouldn’t be worried about whether he can develop here or down there,” Acta said. “He’s not 21 years old. I think he can handle it both ways, develop up here or go down there and play every day.”

Much will depend on how much Casto learned from his initial two-week stint in the majors and whether he can apply it to his second go-around. Lauded all spring for his patience and ability to spray the ball to all fields, he looked overwhelmed at times when facing major league pitching.

In eight games with the Nationals, Casto hit just .172 (5-for-29). He had zero extra-base hits, drove in just one run and drew only two walks, hardly the kind of production he could be counted on during his four minor league seasons (when he hit .276 with 62 homers, 109 doubles and had a .364 on-base percentage).

Casto, though, admits he wasn’t prepared for the daily rigors of the big leagues. In the minors, he had little trouble figuring out opposing pitchers. In the majors, he suddenly realized he had to learn how to make adjustments from day to day and sometimes from at-bat to at-bat.

“Everything that goes into one day up here, it’s a lot more exhaustive,” he said. “Down there, you just show up, play a game and go home. Here, there’s a little more.”

So Casto sat in the Nationals’ clubhouse yesterday, a little wiser and a little humbled by his first big league experience but determined to take advantage of this latest opportunity.

Like he told Acta two weeks ago, he was back. Even if it happened a little sooner than he expected.

“It’s like getting knocked down,” Casto said. “You want to show people that you can get back up, prove to everybody that you did belong here in the first place. You want to get back there as quick as possible.”

Notes — Acta went with a new-look lineup for last night’s game against the Padres, bumping Church up to the cleanup spot while dropping Dmitri Young to sixth. Acta said he wanted to give Church (his best hitter through the season’s first month) more opportunities to drive in runs and called the move “semi-permanent.” …

To make room on the roster for Casto, infielder D’Angelo Jimenez was designated for assignment. Jimenez, who had just one hit in 14 at-bats, must clear waivers before he can be outrighted to Columbus. …

Radio announcer Charlie Slowes missed his first game in three seasons last night after coming down with the virus that has affected people throughout the Nationals organization. Partner Dave Jageler called the entire game by himself.

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