Team Needs A Hand and A Few Arms

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Washington Nationals' pitching staff is in such a sorry state that the team made a slew of moves yesterday, and the end result is that, in the first of a four-game series beginning tonight at St. Louis, they will throw a rookie left-hander who has never pitched in a major league game on three days' rest. "We don't have a lot of depth," General Manager Jim Bowden said.

So it is that Mike O'Connor, a 25-year-old from Ellicott City who attended George Washington, will be recalled from Class AAA New Orleans and thrown right up against Albert Pujols and the Cardinals. And that was only the second-most surprising development of the day, because the Nationals claimed right-hander Zach Day -- whom they traded last summer -- off waivers from the Colorado Rockies. The Nationals also sent left-hander Billy Traber -- shelled for four runs in 1 1/3 innings on Tuesday -- back to New Orleans and replaced him with right-handed reliever Jason Bergmann.

All of these machinations came about because the team's most effective starter, John Patterson, has a strained right forearm. Bowden and Manager Frank Robinson said they hoped Patterson would be able to pitch Sunday in St. Louis, but Patterson doesn't see how that's possible.

"They shut me down for three or four days," he said. "If you do the math, that's Wednesday, Thursday, Friday -- at the earliest, I'm picking a ball up on Saturday, and that's just to play catch.

"And then, depending on where they want to fit me into the rotation, whether that's New York or the first day back at home, would depend on when I throw my bullpen" session.

Patterson, who has been dominant in his last two starts, said he is determined to rid himself of the arm problem, which first flared up following the team's exhibition game against Baltimore on March 31 at RFK Stadium.

"It's just something that's got to be dealt with," Patterson said. "It doesn't do me or the ballclub any good if I keep dragging it out."

Day, then, could be one option to take the start on Sunday. Washington traded him to Colorado last July for outfielder Preston Wilson, but he was hampered by injuries the remainder of the season. In three starts for the Rockies this year, he went 1-2 with a 10.80 ERA and complained of shoulder problems before Colorado designated him for assignment. Bowden said that an examination by orthopedist Timothy Kremchek revealed only shoulder spasms. Day will join the team tomorrow in St. Louis and throw a side session before the Nationals determine whether to place him on the disabled list.

"We claimed him knowing that there was a risk that he was hurt," Bowden said.

To make room for Day on the 40-man roster, the Nationals designated catcher Wiki Gonzalez for assignment, meaning they have 10 days to trade or release him. They will have to make another move today to activate O'Connor onto the 25-man roster.

O'Connor, who spent last year with Class A Potomac, went 0-0 with a 2.41 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings for New Orleans.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company