- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 27, 2007

ST. LOUIS — Despite Jon Rauch’s struggles over the last week, Washington Nationals manager Manny Acta said yesterday the 6-foot-11 right-hander will remain his top setup man.

“I don’t give up on my guys after four bad outings,” Acta said before the Nationals’ game against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Rauch, who typically pitches the eighth inning in advance of closer Chad Cordero, entered last night’s game having been scored upon in each of his last four appearances (allowing seven runs in four total innings). His ERA over that span skyrocketed from 3.63 to 5.47.

The situation got so bad Friday night that Acta pulled Rauch out after he gave up three straight singles to open the eighth inning. With the Nationals clinging to a 5-4 lead, right-hander Jesus Colome came on and escaped the jam, striking out Jim Edmonds and getting Yadier Molina to ground into a double play.

Colome’s clutch performance in that game, plus his work throughout the season, has made him a logical choice to take over Rauch’s role in the bullpen. Acta did say he’s now confident enough in Colome to use him in those situations, but insisted Rauch will continue to get the bulk of the work there.

“We have to stay consistent with our players,” the manager said. “Just a week ago, people were wondering if we were going to take Rauch out of the closing role. Now that he’s struggling as a setup, we’re not going to go through the same thing. He’s going to bounce back, he’s going to make the adjustment and he’s going to be our eighth guy. But we also know now we can use Colome in that spot if we have to.”

Hill on mound

Shawn Hill threw off a mound yesterday for the first time since going on the disabled list with a right shoulder injury. Pitching coach Randy St. Claire said Hill felt a little rusty during his 30-pitch bullpen session, perhaps a product of the right-hander not having done any work the previous day.

“The key will be how he feels tomorrow,” St. Claire said.

Though Hill is officially on the DL because of his non-throwing shoulder, he’s also been battling a sore right elbow. If he comes out of yesterday’s session feeling fine, he’ll likely throw in the bullpen one more time, then pitch a simulated game, then go on a minor-league rehab assignment.

That would put him on schedule to return to the Nationals’ rotation in mid-June.

John Patterson, also on the DL with a right arm injury, will throw off a mound Tuesday.

Extra bases

Acta continues to be impressed with second baseman Felipe Lopez’s glovework. The converted shortstop made two key diving stops in Friday night’s win. “I mentioned that to you guys at spring training, how everybody that moves from short to second becomes automatically better,” Acta said. “He can become an outstanding second baseman.” …

Infielder Ronnie Belliard was presented with a replica World Series ring before last night’s game. Belliard, who spent the last three months of 2006 with the Cardinals, will receive his actual ring at a later date.

Want more Nats? Check out Nats Home Plate.

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