Saturday, May 20, 2006

Outfielder Ryan Church, mired in a 3-for-21 slump in the last six games, says he’s not himself at the plate. The Washington Nationals agree.

Following last night’s 5-1 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, the Nationals optioned Church to Class AA Harrisburg and purchased the contract of outfielder Alex Escobar from Harrisburg. To make room for Escobar on their 40-man roster, the Nationals transferred injured right-hander Pedro Astacio from the 15-day to the 60-day disabled list.

“It’s been an on-going thing all year,” Church said of his hitting woes. “It’s been a tough one. It’s a matter of battling through it and coming out on top. All you can do is just go down and play.”

In spring training, Brandon Watson beat out Church as the starting center fielder. Church opened the season at Class AAA New Orleans. The Nationals optioned Church to Harrisburg because the Senators roster needs a replacement for Escobar and because Harrisburg is closer than New Orleans.

Church “is a little confused right now,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. “He’s swinging at the pitcher’s pitch, taking his pitch, not really focused on what he wants to do at the plate. We want him to get back in a good groove. Harrisburg is a little closer. The environment is a little better down there. It doesn’t really matter whether its Double-A or Triple-A as far as him getting back here.”

Escobar, 26, is a former prospect with the New York Mets, but injuries have hurt his progress the past couple of seasons.

In 28 games with the Senators, Escobar was hitting .298 with eight doubles, four home runs, and 19 RBI. He is expected to report today to the Nationals. Meanwhile, with his 0-for-4 performance last night, Church’s batting average dropped to .215 in 23 games with the Nationals.

Guillen gets a rest

The Nationals will wait before putting outfielder Jose Guillen on the disabled list.

Guillen, who is hitting just .218 this season, will get five more days to allow his right hamstring to improve before the club makes a decision about his immediate future.

“It just feels sore there and they are trying to give me five more days to get ready to play again and then we’ll go from there,” Guillen said.

On Thursday in Chicago, Guillen said he was “90 percent” sure that he was going on the DL with a hamstring injury that has been bothering him for a week now.

Guillen left Wednesday’s 5-0 loss to the Chicago Cubs in the fourth inning when he re-injured his hamstring. Guillen sat out Thursday’s game and was out of the starting lineup last night. Daryle Ward started for Guillen in right field last night and batted cleanup.

“He’s still day-to-day,” Robinson said. “He’s not quite there yet, he’s still got a little soreness in the leg. We’ll just see how feels from day to day the next few days. [The DL] can be mentioned, but we’re not considering it right now.”

No Tommy John, for now

Injured Nationals right-hander Ryan Drese said he has no intention of having elbow surgery. A saline-enhanced MRI taken Monday in Cincinnati revealed a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in Drese’s right elbow.

Drese, who opened the season on the 15-day DL while still recovering from right shoulder surgery, believes the tear in his elbow might be a pre-existing condition, and something he has pitched with.

“Where I am right now, I’m taking the mind-set to do my work every day and try and get back on the field,” said Drese, who was placed on the 15-day DL April 14 with a strained right flexor tendon. “I had elbow surgery back in college in 1996, but it was just minor. It’s too early for that [Tommy John surgery]. I’m doing a strengthening program right now and then I’m going to continue and start trying to throw and get back on the field, on the mound in a few weeks. I’m hoping for the best.”

Drese started two games this season for the Nationals and lost both.

“I want to get back on the field. I want to play,” said Drese, who has a 5.19 ERA in 82/3 innings this season. “I’m not even thinking about surgery at all.”

Patterson getting closer

Right-hander John Patterson got closer to his rehab assignment yesterday.

Patterson, who was placed on the DL on April 28 with inflammation in his right forearm, threw 45 fastballs in the bullpen and emerged from his throwing session pain-free. That was Patterson’s first bullpen session in 10 days, when extended rest was decided to be the best action for his inflamed forearm.

“I felt good, everything is still on schedule,” said Patterson, who is looking to return some time after June 1. “My arm felt good, most of my pitches felt good. As far as my health, I feel good.”

Patterson is 1-0 with a 3.86 ERA in four starts this season.

“I’m going to have some [simulated] games and stuff like that, BPs like you do in spring training, so I can get my pitches up where I can go throw three or four innings. So, I still have another week [before a rehab assignment].”

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