- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2007

MIAMI — If Ryan Church hadn’t been through this before, he might be worried about his future with the Washington Nationals. But this isn’t the first time the 28-year-old outfielder has been uncertain about his role within the organization.

So even as he sits on the bench most nights while Wily Mo Pena starts in left field, Church insists he doesn’t agonize over something he can’t control.

“That’s why you can’t even worry about it,” he said before last night’s game against the Florida Marlins. “Finish strong. Everything else will take care of itself.”

Church knows his time as an everyday player with the Nationals may be over. The organization didn’t acquire the power-hitting Pena last month to sit him. But Church also knows his status isn’t set. And if he continues to play well in his new reserve role over the season’s final few weeks, he could convince club officials not to give up on him.

“It’s just one of those things where you’ve got to be ready,” he said. “You can’t just sit and pout and dwell on stuff. It’s just going to end up biting you in the [rear]. It’s taking advantage of it and making the most of the opportunities you get.”

Church has done a pretty good job of that since Pena’s acquisition from the Boston Red Sox on Aug. 17. In 16 games (nine starts) since then, he is hitting .275 with two homers and 11 RBI. On Sunday, he belted a three-run homer to give Washington the lead for good en route to a 7-4 victory over the Atlanta Braves.

The Nationals’ coaching and front office staffs have noticed how well Church has adjusted to his decreased role.

“He’s gotten some big hits for us and taken advantage of every at-bat he’s gotten for us since Wily has got over here, and he’s given us a lift when we needed it,” manager Manny Acta said. “I think he’s taken the right attitude toward it and done the best possible.”

Flores gets his shot

Jesus Flores started behind the plate again last night, the rookie catcher’s fourth straight start in place of Brian Schneider.

Schneider, who has been battling flu-like symptoms, said he felt strong enough to play, but Acta didn’t want to take any chances, especially with left-hander Scott Olsen pitching for Florida.

Schneider is expected back in the lineup for the final two games of the series, but the Nationals could learn a thing or two about Flores during his first prolonged stretch of consecutive starts. Previously given only a handful of at-bats in sporadic fashion, he has now started five of Washington’s last nine games.

“It’s good for everybody to play consecutive days,” Acta said. “We want to give him more at-bats this last month, so that’s convenient for him.”

Extra bases

Tim Redding played catch before yesterday’s game for the first time since getting struck in the right elbow by a batted ball. There’s still no official timetable for the right-hander’s return, but he hopes to be back before the season ends. …

The Marlins changed starting pitchers for tonight’s game. Rookie left-hander Chris Seddon will replace right-hander Sergio Mitre, who was benched after posting an 11.32 ERA in his last five starts.

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