- The Washington Times - Friday, September 25, 2009

When Washington Nationals reliever Sean Burnett took a comebacker off his left thumb against the Milwaukee Brewers on Aug. 23, he was settling into a role as one of the team’s late-inning fixtures.

Burnett had made six of his previous nine appearances with the game tied or the Nationals ahead by three or less, and eight of those nine appearances had come in the seventh inning or later.

He was on track to take over at least part of the setup role Joe Beimel vacated when he was traded July 31, and Burnett was pitching well; he had had a 3.10 ERA in 23 games since the Nationals acquired him at the end of June.

But that comebacker caused a lingering injury that has changed the way Burnett’s season is wrapping up.

Interim manager Jim Riggleman said Thursday that Burnett is still struggling with the thumb injury, and he’s not sure how much more the 27-year-old will pitch the rest of this season. Burnett primarily has been used for one or two batters since the injury and has been taken out of games when Riggleman said he otherwise would prefer to leave in the reliever.

“He’s still feeling pain in there,” Riggleman said. “There’s been a lot of days I just haven’t used him at, knowing he’s just not comfortable yet. When I’ve used him now, it’s been more a couple hitters at a time. He’s certainly not a lefty specialist.”

Burnett was billed as being as effective against righties as he is against lefties, but he has pitched a full inning just once since the injury. And Riggleman is advocating caution the rest of the way.

“I don’t know how much more he’s going to pitch for us if this continues,” Riggleman said. “He’s trying to gut out and pitch for us, but I don’t want to put him out there if it’s hurting.”

Guzman sits

Nursing a sore right shoulder, shortstop Cristian Guzman was out of the lineup Thursday, and Ian Desmond started there for the fourth time since being called up. Guzman made two errors in the ninth inning of Wednesday’s win over the Dodgers, and Riggleman said he would try to keep the shortstop from throwing for a day or two.

“He’ll be able to pinch hit, but I’ll try to keep him out of playing any defense,” Riggleman said.

The injury does provide the Nationals an opportunity to get more of a look at Desmond playing shortstop; the team has discussed the possibility of Guzman moving to second base next season, but Desmond has played more second base in the last week while Guzman stayed at short.

Riggleman was asked again Thursday where he thinks Desmond best fits for the future, and he said the 23-year-old’s top position would be shortstop, though he added Desmond is capable of playing all over the field.

Nieves still out

Though he feels he’s ready to come back from a strained left hamstring, catcher Wil Nieves likely will sit until the weekend, Riggleman said.

He ran the bases before Thursday’s game, but Riggleman was still concerned about putting Nieves in a situation in which he would have to run at top speed.

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