- The Washington Times - Monday, May 12, 2008

The Washington Nationals’ search for a fifth starter continues. The team optioned Mike O’Connor to Class AAA Columbus yesterday, less than 24 hours after he allowed nine runs in 31/3 innings, and recalled reliever Chris Schroder.

The move gives Washington a seven-man bullpen to start a 20-game, 21-day stretch. But it also means the team will have to make another decision on its starting rotation by Thursday, when O’Connor would have been scheduled to face the Mets and Johan Santana.

“We do need an arm for the bullpen. That’s the primary thing,” manager Manny Acta said. “It might not be fair, but we didn’t think Mike threw the ball well enough. We’ve got to keep just plugging along.”

Acta didn’t rule out Matt Chico, who was moved to the bullpen earlier this week to make room for O’Connor’s return to the rotation. Nor would he commit to Jason Bergmann, the other logical choice to be called up after three strong starts at Columbus.

“Everyone from [Class AA prospect] Jordan Zimmermann to Chico” is in the running, Acta said.

O’Connor was called up as a reliever April 24 and made his first start in roughly 20 months Saturday night. He was 2-0 with a 1.96 ERA at Columbus.

“I would have liked to get another chance to go out there, but that was their decision. So that’s what it is,” O’Connor said.

Whether he will get another chance to stick in the Nationals’ rotation this season remains to be seen.

“He just needs to trust his stuff,” pitching coach Randy St. Claire said. “I think he was trying to be fine and not being aggressive. He needs to relax and do what he did down there here.”

Boone has big day

Lost in the Nationals’ late-game breakdown yesterday was another impressive start from Aaron Boone, who spelled Nick Johnson at first base and nearly came away hitting for the cycle.

The 34-year-old hit a 1-2 pitch to center field for his third homer in eight days in the second inning. Then he drove a ball straight over Marlins center fielder Alfredo Amezaga for a double, advancing to third when Amezaga bobbled it as it caromed off the wall. The play was later changed to a triple.

Boone singled in the sixth inning before flying out to right in the eighth. He is hitting .392 with two homers and five RBI in seven starts and got the first pinch-hit homer of his career Tuesday at Houston.

“That’s not always indicative when you haven’t had a lot of at-bats,” Boone said of his success when he starts. “It’s always nice to get in there and play, no doubt about it. But I’m getting more comfortable in the role of going out there and pinch-hitting, too.”

Flores gets two hits

Catcher Jesus Flores went 2-for-4 with a run yesterday, getting his first extra-base hit since a homer in his last call-up April 5. Flores drove a fastball to left off Logan Kensing.

Flores, who could be the Nationals’ catcher as soon as next season, came to the majors struggling offensively but said he’s working to be more selective at the plate.

“I have to prepare myself to look for good pitches,” he said. “[The hit off Kensing] was a fastball, and I was looking for it. I tried to make a good swing on it, and I did.”



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