- The Washington Times - Monday, April 14, 2008

Judging by the reaction he got when he walked into the Nationals Park clubhouse for the first time yesterday, it’s safe to say Wily Mo Pena has been missed. The Washington Nationals left fielder underscored that point when he took batting practice.

With one easy swing after another, Pena dropped balls into the stands and banged them off the outfield fence. For a team that has sorely been missing his middle-of-the-order presence, it was a welcome sight.

Pena was activated from the 15-day disabled list yesterday, though the results showed he still has a ways to go. He struck out three times and grounded into a double play in his four at-bats.

He also dropped a line drive in the eighth inning that allowed the Braves to pull within one.

“I was playing back like everybody was playing back,” Pena said. “When the ball came, I pulled my hand away a little bit.”

After staying in Florida to do rehab work in extended spring training, Pena played one game for Class AAA Columbus before joining the Nationals.

The free-swinging Pena won’t hit for average, and he has yet to play more than 110 games in a season. But he has raw power — he has averaged a homer every 17.5 at-bats the last four years — and with a full season, he could be the kind of consistent power source the team hasn’t had.

“Wily Mo, he’s a threat to have one RBI every time he steps to the plate,” general manager Jim Bowden said. “So that changes you immediately.”

Closer Chad Cordero also pitched yesterday after recovering from shoulder tendinitis and coming off the disabled list Saturday. Manager Manny Acta originally had planned to ease him back into the ninth inning, but he brought Cordero in to close once the Nationals had to go to their bullpen earlier than planned.

Cordero faced five batters, issuing two walks (one intentional) before giving way to Jon Rauch, who retired Brian McCann on a bases-loaded fly ball to end the game.

“I would have liked to have stayed out there and tried to get the last out,” Cordero said. “But Manny felt like Rauch had a better chance against McCann.”

Flores sent down

To make room for Pena, catcher Jesus Flores was optioned to Columbus. The team originally planned to send him to Class AA Harrisburg but decided to give Flores a chance to work with young pitchers like Collin Balester and Tyler Clippard who presumably also will be in the majors soon.

“He’ll get to know them, handle them, get to know their makeups,” said bench coach Pat Corrales, who works with the team’s catchers. “That’s very important. But the bottom line is he needs to play. The only way you get better is [to] play.”

The 23-year-old Flores was hitting .364 with a homer and three RBI in 11 at-bats with the Nationals this season.

Hill shaky in Charlotte

In what is likely to be his last rehab start before his 2008 major league debut, starter Shawn Hill struggled in Columbus’ 6-5 loss at Charlotte yesterday.

Hill, who missed all of spring training with forearm soreness, went six innings, allowing five earned runs and nine hits. He threw 88 pitches, 55 of them strikes.

“He threw three great innings,” Bowden said. “He gave it up in the fourth inning, but he pitched well. Obviously, we would have liked better results, but as far as his stuff, he was able to hold it.”

The Nationals have only four starters on their roster right now, which means they’re likely planning to activate Hill from the 15-day disabled list in time for him to start Friday against the Marlins, though Bowden said no final decision has been made.

“We’ll take all the information, meet on it and make a decision,” he said.

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