- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 31, 2009

— Justin Maxwell may yet prove to be the Washington Nationals’ center fielder of the future. He is not, however, ready to be the center fielder of the present.

The Nationals demoted Maxwell to Class AAA Syracuse on Saturday and recalled infielder Alberto Gonzalez to take his roster spot, a move that became necessary because of the young outfielder’s struggles at the plate and a thumb injury to shortstop Cristian Guzman.

Guzman, who jammed his right thumb earlier in the season, felt a recurrence of pain earlier in the week and will be forced to rest a couple of days. With no other natural shortstops on the roster, the Nationals needed to call up Gonzalez, who was hitting .311 in 23 games with Syracuse.

Guzman has been a mainstay atop Washington’s lineup all season - aside from a two-week stint on the disabled list last month with a strained hamstring - and he was leading the National League in hitting earlier this month. But he has tailed off considerably and has seen his batting average plummet 56 points during a 7-for-42 stretch.

“I don’t think he has been struggling,” manager Manny Acta said. “I don’t think anybody here was anticipating him hitting .390. I just don’t think that a guy who doesn’t walk often is going to hit .390, .380 in this league.”

Maxwell was struggling even worse at the plate since rejoining the Nationals’ roster 11 days ago when Elijah Dukes went on the DL. He went 0-for-16 with 10 strikeouts - and was (in the words of acting general manager Mike Rizzo) “overmatched” by big league pitching.

That said, the organization remains high on the 25-year-old Olney native for the long term.

“It was kind of a disservice to him to bring him up, but we did,” Rizzo said. “We needed a center fielder, and he was the guy. We know what he can do defensively. He needs to shorten up his swing and get back on track. We feel positively about him.”

With Maxwell off the roster and Dukes not due to come off the DL until Tuesday, the Nationals had Austin Kearns starting in center field Saturday night, the first time he played the position since 2007. Kearns has started 45 games in center field in the majors, many of them with the Cincinnati Reds in 2003 when Ken Griffey Jr. suffered an injury.

The biggest difference in moving from right field to center? “Just more ground you’ve got to cover and more responsibility,” Kearns said.

T. Young back on DL

The Nationals tried to send Rule 5 draft pick Terrell Young back to the Reds two weeks ago. But the right-hander claimed his throwing shoulder remained injured, so Washington was forced to bring him back, place him on the 40-man roster and put him back on the disabled list.

Young, the first pick in last December’s draft, had rehabbed at extended spring training and reported no problems after pitching in one game in Florida, so the Nationals offered him back to the Reds.

“We deemed him healthy and sent him back to the Reds,” Rizzo said. “But he was sore again.”

An MRI taken on Young’s shoulder revealed tendinitis, but Birmingham, Ala., orthopedist James Andrews recommended exploratory surgery on Thursday to see if there is something more serious that needs attention.

“They don’t see anything bad on the MRI,” Rizzo said. “But he’s just thinking because of the inflammation and the tendinitis, there might be something in there.”

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