By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
BOSTON, June 20 -- Nationals right-hander Tony Armas Jr. and first baseman Nick Johnson returned to Washington on Tuesday and will have what the club is calling "precautionary" MRI exams Wednesday, Armas on his right forearm, Johnson on his strained back.
Armas lasted 3 2/3 innings in Monday's 6-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox, allowing four runs, and has been generally shaky his last three starts. General Manager Jim Bowden said Armas's surgically repaired right shoulder is fine.
"Tony's struggled the last couple of times," he said. "He just has a little soreness in the forearm area. No big deal. We're not really concerned about it."
Still, the discomfort Armas (6-4, 4.44 ERA) experienced could help explain his recent performance. He hasn't pitched more than five innings in his last three starts, and after posting a 3.08 ERA in his first nine outings, he has a 6.75 ERA over his last six.
During that time, team officials said, Armas tweaked something in his back. Though the back problem wasn't significant enough to prevent him from pitching, both Bowden and pitching coach Randy St. Claire said compensating for the slight strain might have contributed to Armas's forearm problems.
"I always get concerned about something else getting hurt," Bowden said.
With off days on Thursday and next Monday, the Nationals were already planning on pushing Armas back in the rotation, perhaps to next Tuesday in Toronto. Now, he might be skipped altogether.
When John Patterson is activated from the disabled list on Friday and pitches in Baltimore -- a plan that has now been finalized -- the team will have six starters. If Armas needs more time, the club won't have to remove either Shawn Hill or Michael O'Connor from the rotation.
"I don't need anyone to solve my problems like this," Manager Frank Robinson said. "I want to solve my own problems by just doing it and let the best people that are throwing the best and have the best performances out there."
Johnson missed his third straight game with the back problem and said he wouldn't be available until Friday at the earliest. Bowden said he saw him in the team hotel Tuesday morning, and "it looked like he was struggling to hold his cup of coffee."Anderson at Cleanup
With knuckleballer Tim Wakefield pitching for the Red Sox, Robinson rolled out a lineup with utility man Marlon Anderson in the cleanup spot. "First time in my career," said Anderson, who had started in every other spot in the order.