- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Washington Nationals gave Matt Chico nearly two months to work out his troubles in the big leagues, both out of the rotation and the bullpen. The club finally decided the 24-year-old left-hander would be better served finding himself in the minors.

Chico was optioned to Class AAA Columbus, just one in a flurry of roster moves for the Nationals heading into this weekend’s series against the Milwaukee Brewers. Reliever Chris Schroder also was optioned to Class AAA, with outfielder Ryan Langerhans and relievers Brian Sanches and Charlie Manning getting their contracts purchased from Columbus.

The decision to send Chico down seemed inevitable at some point. The 24-year-old left-hander is 0-6 with a 6.19 ERA in 11 games (eight starts) and aside from a spot start Wednesday already had been banished to the bullpen.

The Nationals, though, think Chico has a better chance figuring things out as a minor league starter than as a major league reliever.

“We need to get him back on track like we did with [Jason] Bergmann,” general manager Jim Bowden said. “I think the best way to do it at this point is to go down there and just take the ball every fifth day, relax in a different environment like Bergmann did. Hopefully he can do the same thing.”

Langerhans returns to Washington after hitting .306 with 10 doubles, three homers and 24 RBI at Columbus. The 28-year-old takes the roster spot that opened when right fielder Austin Kearns went on the disabled list with a right elbow injury. But Langerhans will be used in a backup role while Elijah Dukes and Wily Mo Pena continue to get a chance to hit their way out of season-long slumps.

The two new relievers offer manager Manny Acta a different look. Manning, 29, is a left-hander who showed the ability to retire hitters from both sides of the plate at Columbus, where he posted a 1.96 ERA and six saves to earn the first promotion of his career.

Sanches, a 29-year-old right-hander, had a 0.98 ERA and seven saves and has had some previous big league experience with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Schroder, who allowed two runs in one inning of relief Wednesday, was optioned down for the third time already this season.

Stearns fills in

Third base coach Tim Tolman flew home to Tucson, Ariz., to attend his son’s high school graduation last night, so the Nationals brought up Class AA Harrisburg manager John Stearns to take over temporary coaching duties.

Tolman will be back for tonight’s game, and Stearns will return to his day job.

“A little bit of a call-up,” he said, comparing it to his one-day, big league debut with the Phillies in 1974. “I was a little more nervous then, but I am nervous now.”

Extra bases

Kearns had successful arthroscopic surgery yesterday in Cincinnati to remove loose bone fragments from his right elbow. He’s expected to miss four weeks. …

To clear space on the 40-man roster for yesterday’s moves, reliever Ryan Wagner (torn right shoulder) was transferred from the 15-day disabled list to the 60-day DL. …

Dukes was forced to leave last night’s game in the sixth after fouling a pitch off his left foot one inning earlier. X-rays came back negative, and Dukes was diagnosed with a bruised left ankle. His status is day-to-day.

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