- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Washington Nationals reinstated outfielder Josh Willingham from the bereavement list before Saturday’s game, but that only seems like the first of several steps still necessary to get Willingham back in the lineup.

Willingham returned to the District with a heavy heart Saturday following a week with his family in Florence, Ala., where his younger brother, Jon, was killed in a car accident June 13.

To make room for Willingham’s return, the Nationals optioned outfielder Corey Patterson to Class AAA Syracuse.

Willingham wasn’t in the lineup for Saturday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays; manager Manny Acta said Willingham could pinch hit if the team felt he hadn’t lost any timing from spending a week without baseball activities.

Beyond that, the Nationals are trying to be as gentle around Willingham as they can.

“We’ll sit down and talk to him. The topic will include not only family, but your physical shape and frame of mind and all that,” Acta said. “[It’s] how you feel and the plan we’re going to put forward before he steps to the field.”

Willingham said he felt physically ready to come back and wasn’t worried about the missed week affecting him. He had started one game in right field before leaving the team and will start to play the position more now that he has returned.

“It’ll take a while, but I’m getting used to it,” he said. “It’s the complete opposite. I’ve been on the left side basically my whole career. The ball starts slicing the other way, the ball comes off righties and lefties different.”

Having something as trivial to learn as a new position could bring plenty of therapeutic benefits.

“People care about you, and you care about them,” Willingham said. “It’s hard to be away from your family, especially when something like this happens. These guys are family away from family. It’s good to have friends that you care about. They care about you, and they’re hurting with you.”

Said Acta: “I don’t think he’s going to forget anytime soon what happened, but I think this will help him tremendously.”

Another start for Olsen

Left-hander Scott Olsen will make at least one more rehab start at Syracuse before returning to the Nationals from left shoulder tendinitis. Olsen gave up five runs (four earned) on seven hits in 3 2/3 innings, and Acta said Olsen was “scattering the strike zone” too much to come back yet.

He threw 83 pitches in the start and will probably get a similar workload in his next start for the Chiefs. Acting general manager Mike Rizzo said the Nationals would evaluate whether to bring Olsen back after his next start.

“We want to get his mechanics fine-tuned to where they were, so when he comes up he hits the ground running and we don’t have to baby him through a few starts,” Rizzo said.

Rizzo wouldn’t discuss how the Nationals would decide whether to keep Ross Detwiler or Craig Stammen in the rotation, other than saying the decision wasn’t “necessarily” limited to those two pitchers, the last two called up from Syracuse.

McGeary to Vermont

Rizzo said left-hander Jack McGeary, in his first full year of professional baseball, will drop from Class A Hagerstown to short-season Class A Vermont to get his mechanics in better shape after a rough start to the year.

McGeary, who had been taking classes at Stanford and starting the season in June until this year, when he decided to play a full season, has an 0-6 record and 6.83 ERA in 13 starts at Hagerstown.

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