- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 12, 2009

ATLANTA | When second baseman Anderson Hernandez had to open the season on the disabled list, the Washington Nationals weren't worried. They were well-stocked with backups at that position.

Five games into the season, though, Hernandez's absence has loomed larger than the Nationals anticipated, especially in the field. Neither Ronnie Belliard (who injured his back Wednesday) nor Willie Harris has duplicated Hernandez's glove work.

“You miss his range and you miss his sure-handedness out there,” acting general manager Mike Rizzo said. “He's a fine defensive second baseman, and he was swinging the bat well in spring training. He was one of our eight starters, and whenever one of your eight starters comes out of the lineup, you miss him.”

Fortunately for Washington, Hernandez appears close to returning from the strained hamstring that has sidelined him since March 25. After playing seven innings at extended spring training in Viera, Fla., on Saturday, he flew north to meet up with Class AAA Syracuse and will be in the Chiefs' lineup Sunday against Rochester.

Assuming there aren't any setbacks, Hernandez could return to the Nationals in a matter of days.

“We have to see how he performs and how he handles playing when the game speeds up and you have to go instinctually and full-go,” Rizzo said. “We'll see how his body holds up.”

Decision looming on T. Young

Terrell Young has only recently begun a throwing program and doesn't appear close to returning from a right shoulder injury.

Young, the top pick in December's Rule 5 draft, still must build his arm strength up after being shut down during spring training with shoulder inflammation. He remains in Viera at extended spring training, with no set timetable on a rehab program.

“I would say we're more so weeks away than days away,” Rizzo said.

Once Young is healthy, the Nationals will have to make a decision. As a Rule 5 pick, he must either be added to the 25-man roster or offered back to the Reds unless Washington can work out a trade with Cincinnati to keep him in the minors.

Extra bases

Elijah Dukes, who tweaked his groin on the final play of Friday night's 6-5 loss to the Atlanta Braves, was not in the lineup Saturday. The injury, though, is not as serious as the Nationals initially feared. Dukes' status is day-to-day. …

Dmitri Young, still working into playing shape, played seven innings at first base Friday in Viera. The Nationals plan to continue to increase the veteran's workload before sending him on a minor league rehab assignment.

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