- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Washington Nationals gained a second baseman but lost another before Monday's home opener. And there's still no telling how long they will be without their best middle infielder after he pulled up hurting in the ninth inning.

Washington activated Anderson Hernandez from the 15-day disabled list to take the spot of Willie Harris, who went on the DL with a pulled left oblique muscle. After his fifth hit of the game Monday, shortstop Cristian Guzman strained his left hamstring running out of the batter's box. The injury isn't as bad as the Nationals first feared, manager Manny Acta said, but it could send Washington's middle infield into a tenuous state when the Nationals play the Phillies again Wednesday.

“The strain is lower on his [hamstring], not as high,” Acta said. “He's going to get treatment [on Tuesday], and we're going to re-evaluate him.”

The injury, if serious, is a major blow; Guzman leads the National League with 17 hits and a .515 batting average after seven games. He has six multihit games and needed just two innings to get two hits Monday.

He said he felt a pop in his hamstring when he left the batter's box in the ninth inning but didn't feel any pain as he accelerated down the line. The pop came back as he rounded first for what would have been a sure double. He pulled up, retreated to first and came out of the game.

Hernandez, who started the year on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring, had been expected to play two more games at Class AAA Syracuse but arrived at Nationals Park on Monday morning after playing just once for the Chiefs, going 0-for-4 in seven innings Sunday.

“I played [Sunday] in the cold. It doesn't bother me,” Hernandez said. “It feels good.”

Harris came out of Sunday's game against the Braves after three innings and had been told the injury was minor. But the team decided to put him on the DL to prevent the situation from getting worse.

“I think it's one of those injuries where they're just taking it easy,” Harris said. “They figured we needed to go ahead and nip it in the bud right now so it's not a long-lasting injury. I think we're doing the right thing.”

He said he can feel the strain in his oblique muscle in everyday occurrences, such as coughing or sneezing. It's a delicate enough injury that Harris could aggravate it by reaching for a pitch or moving for a ground ball.

“You use your oblique a lot when you're playing baseball, especially playing second base,” Acta said. “Hopefully, he won't be that long.”

Acta said Ronnie Belliard, who strained his lower back last week, is feeling better each day, but the Nationals still have to “play it by ear” with his return.

Military theme

When President Obama declined the Nationals' invitation to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the home opener, the club turned to the military to commemorate the occasion.

Five members of the armed services, one representing each branch - Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard - stood together in front of the mound and threw ceremonial pitches.

Grammy-winning singer Patti Austin sang the national anthem and “God Bless America.” “Meet the Press” host and Nationals season-ticket holder David Gregory introduced both teams, with Washington's starting lineup jogging in from center field on a red carpet.

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