By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 17, 2008
BALTIMORE, May 16 -- Typically, Austin Kearns doesn't walk into the Washington Nationals' clubhouse with much doubt about his place in the lineup: Since the start of the 2007 season, he has appeared in all but two of Washington's games.
But then again, Kearns doesn't typically walk into the clubhouse lugging a sub-.200 batting average and power numbers a preschooler could finger-count: three doubles and three home runs.
On Friday, Manager Manny Acta decided that Kearns needed a day off. Out of the starting lineup, Kearns planned to concentrate during batting practice on the major flaw that has buried him in the deepest slump of his career.
"Right now, he's getting his hands back a little too late," Acta said. "His trigger is a little late. He's going to be working on some things, and obviously it's better to do it on a day when you're not playing; he can make some adjustments at the plate."
The day off came after a particularly rough four-game series in New York during which Kearns went 1 for 16. Twice, he misplayed balls in the outfield -- though only one, a routine fly that popped out his glove on Thursday -- was ruled an error. Kearns, traditionally a reliable fielder, assured Acta that his batting struggles weren't affecting his defense.
Elijah Dukes took Kearns's place in right field on Friday and batted ninth.
"Sometimes it's kind of good to take a step back, try to get in a rhythm," Kearns said.Young: 'I'm Ready'
Dmitri Young returned to the Nationals after missing 1 1/2 months because of a lower back injury. Before the game, in which he went 1 for 4, he sat in front of his locker and -- giving credit to both team massage therapist Tatiana Tchamouroff and a brief rehab stint with Class AA Harrisburg -- declared himself fit to play. "I'm ready," said Young, Washington's all-star representative last season. "Healed up. Did everything I was supposed to do. Perfect timing."
Only when reminded of his 2008 track record (one hit, two at-bats) did Young try to defuse expectations.
His batting average, he said, would probably drop.