Acta Eagerly Awaits Return Of Escobar

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 5, 2007

By now, Manager Manny Acta expected that Alex Escobar might have provided not only a right-handed power hitter off the Washington Nationals' bench, but perhaps even an everyday outfielder to rejuvenate a flagging offense. But Escobar's slow recovery from a slew of injuries -- shoulder surgery at the end of last year, followed by a sprained ankle during rehabilitation last month -- has kept him on the sidelines, monotonously and frustratingly performing drills instead of drilling hits.

Escobar, however, finally might be ready to come back, though coaches and executives know he is the kind of chronically injured player who could have a setback at any time. Still, he spent much of this week running the bases, and he is scheduled to go on a rehabilitation assignment at Class AA Harrisburg over the weekend. Acta said if all goes well there, he expects Escobar to be activated for the first game after the all-star break, July 13 at Florida.

"Once I get back, I need to be available every day," Escobar said. "I've done way too much rehab."

With the way the Nationals' offense has struggled -- before busting out yesterday in a 6-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs, they had 13 runs in eight games -- Acta said he likely would stick Escobar into the lineup upon his return. In 33 games with the Nationals last season, he hit .356 and slugged .575. It's likely Escobar could replace the platoon of Nook Logan and Ryan Langerhans in center field.

"Right now, we just need some offense," Acta said. "I don't think we can be getting too picky over where to place a guy with a bat like his."

Church 'Has Gone in the Tank'

Left fielder Ryan Church, in 5-for-32 slump that dropped his average to .253, had yesterday off against Cubs left-hander Rich Hill.

"Obviously, I was expecting a little bit more," Acta said. "I think he was expecting more, too. He started real good. He just has gone in the tank for the last three weeks."

Church's numbers have fallen off each month. He hit .284 with a .500 slugging percentage in April, .247 and .427 in May and .239 and .352 in June. He is 1 for 8 (.125) in July.

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