August 2009

Kearns seeing specialist; Zim may get big-league start

Nationals outfielder Austin Kearns is expected to see Dr. Thomas Graham in Baltimore on Thursday to check on his right thumb. On that day, it will be determined if Kearns needs surgery.

“It started out as a bruise or contusion. It wasn’t getting better,” said Dr. Wiemi Douoguih, the Nationals’ medical director. “It’s a possibility that he needs surgery, but I don’t want to speculate.”    

In retrospect, interim manager Jim Riggleman believes Kearns’ thumb has been bothering him off and on this season. Kearns was not available for comment.  

Kearns has had thumb problems dating back to his Minor League days with the Reds. In 2001, Kearns suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in the thumb and missed most of the season.

Three years later, scar tissue, a lesion and bone spur had to be removed from his thumb.

As for right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, the team has not decided where he will make his next start — the big leagues or the minors.

Zimmermann was scheduled  to pitch four innings on Tuesday for Class-A Potomac, but he pitched  3 1/3 innings. He left the game because a line drive hit Zimmermann on the back of the left leg in the fourth inning. He is expected to be OK and have a bullpen session on Friday.

If he pitches in the big leagues, Zimmerman will likely start against the Braves on Tuesday.

“We won’t know until after he has his bullpen session the day after tomorrow,” Riggleman said.

Zimmerman is on the disabled list because of a sore right elbow. Every time he pitches, he feels tightness in the elbow.       

“It’s tight. I don’t know how to describe it,” Zimmermann said.

Zimmermann has rehab start

In his first rehab start on Tuesday, Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, on the disabled list because of a sore right elbow, allowed two runs (one earned) on two hits in 3 1/3 innings for Class A Potomac. He struck out six batters and walked one.

Zimmermann may have another rehab start or pitch in Major Leagues later in the week.  

Kearns going on disabled list; Padilla called up

Nationals outfielder Austin Kearns is going on the 15-day disabled list because of a right thumb injury. The Nationals are set to call up outfielder Jorge Padilla, who is arguably the best hitter in the Nationals Minor League System.

Padilla, 29, is hitting .362 with four home runs and 21 RBIs for Triple-A Syracuse. An announcement is expected to be made on Wednesday. 

Kearns, who is having the worst season of his career, is expected to see a thumb specialist in Baltimore on Wednesday.

Kearns has had thumb problems dating back to his Minor League days with the Reds. In 2001, Kearns suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in the thumb and missed most of the season.

Three years later, scar tissue, a lesion and bone spur had to be removed from his thumb.

Nick Johnson returns to Nationals Park

First baseman Nick Johnson was at Nationals Park on Tuesday. Only this time, he was in the visiting clubhouse wearing a Marlins uniform.

Four days ago, Johnson learned that the Nationals traded him to Florida for left-hander Aaron Thompson. Johnson now finds himself in a pennant race.

Entering Tuesday’s action, the Marlins are five games behind the Phillies in NL East Division race and three games behind the Rockies in the Wild Card standings.   

“I’m excited,” Johnson said. “We have a very good team. We are right there for the Wild Card and the division. So that’s what you play for — is to win.”    

Johnson acknowledged that it’s weird being in the Marlins’ dugout after spending five-plus years with the Nationals/Expos.

“It’s a little different, but you get over that pretty quick and it’s all about winning a ballgame,” Johnson said.

When Johnson arrived in Washington on Sunday night, he went straight to his apartment to spend time with his wife, Liz, and his two children.  

In his first at-bat on Tuesday, Johnson received an ovation that was lukewarm compared to the loud ovation outfielder Nyjer Morgan received on Friday when he returned to PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

Johnson ended up driving in a run with a single to right against right-hander  J.D. Martin. 

Willingham, Lincecum named NL Co-Players of the Week

Nationals outfielder Josh Willingham and Giants right-hander Tim Lincecum have been named National League Co-Players of the Week presented by Bank of America for the period ending August 2nd.

Willingham went 10-for-23 [.435] with three home runs and 11 RBIs. He collected four multi-hit games while posting a .913 slugging percentage and a .519 on-base percentage.

On July 27th, Willingham had the game of his life, hitting two grand slams at Miller Park to lead the Nationals to a 14-6 win over the Brewers. Willingham became the 13th player in Major League history to accomplish the feat and the first player to do so since Boston’s Bill Mueller in 2003.

The eight-RBI game marked a career high for Willingham and matched a franchise single-game mark, including Montreal.

As for Lincecum, he didn’t give up an earned run in 17 innings, while striking out a combined 23 strikeouts against the Pirates and Phillies.  

Baseball ethics: The Jim Riggleman way

On Saturday, Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen played a great game, hitting three home runs and driving in six runs.

After the game, I asked Nationals interim manager Jim Riggleman the following question: Were there any thoughts of backing McCutchen off the plate?

Here is the great answer Riggleman gave to me and the rest of the Washington media:

“That’s a touchy area. You don’t like to see a guy up there swinging freely. I’ve always been of the opinion that there are no free shots [at the hitter]. The damage is already done. You decide to hit somebody, it’s not like it goes unnoticed. [Ryan] Zimmerman or [Adam] Dunn is going to take one off the head, back or wrist.

“I’ve been accused of being a little soft on the issue. I’ll tell you, … I don’t think we can afford to have Zimmerman or Dunn get one off the wrist if we hit somebody. …

“I go back to my days with Sammy Sosa. In 1998, he hit 66 home runs. Our team gave up a lot of home runs. I was told to knock somebody down. Sammy doesn’t hit 66 home runs if we are out drilling people.

“The solution is to throw better pitches. You pitch better, you don’t get into the situation. As my mentor George Kissell said, ‘[Hitting a batter] went out with World War II.’ … It doesn’t operate that way anymore.” 

More on Austin Kearns

Nationals interim manager Jim Riggleman doesn’t know how serious Austin Kearns’ right thumb injury is. Kearns will get the thumb checked out when the team returns to Washington.  

Kearns has had thumb problems dating back to his Minor League days with the Reds. In 2001, Kearns suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in the thumb and missed most of the season.

Three years later, scar tissue, a lesion and bone spur had to be removed.

“It kind of crept back on him. It’s real sore today,” Riggleman said. “He came in today and the thumb was really swollen and kind of blistered up. Because he is such a gamer and tough guy, he was available to pinch hit. We were going to stay away from that.”

Lineup change — Kearns has been scratched [Update]

Morgan, cf
Guzman, ss
Zimmerman, 3b
Willingham, lf
Dukes, rf
Belliard, 1b
Gonzalez, 2b
Nieves, c
Balester, rhp

Kearns scratched from starting lineup because of right thumb contusion

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Milledge finds hitting stroke with Pirates

I spoke to Pirates outfielder Lastings Milledge on Saturday afternoon. He made it clear to me that he did not want to talk about his experiences with the Nationals.

The only thing he would say was that he got into some bad hitting habits with the Nationals starting in Spring Training.

It wasn’t until he broke his finger during the season that he realized that he had to go back to the old hitting style that got him to the big leagues. A person close to Milledge told me on June 30 that Milledge got into the those bad habits because he was trying to please Nationals hitting coach Rick Eckstein. This same person felt that Eckstein altered Milledge’s swing for no reason.   

Milledge found his stroke on Friday, however, as he collected two hits and two RBIs against Washington. Asked how good was it to get revenge against his former team, Milledge said, “I want to do well against every team. It’s not a big deal who I do it against. I’m just trying to play well against every team and try to have an outstanding season. I don’t try to pick and choose who I play against.”