By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 23, 2008
After spending the season's first quarter waiting to escape from a slump, and after spending the last week out of the lineup waiting for elbow soreness to subside, right fielder Austin Kearns learned yesterday that he will need much more time to both heal and hit.
The Washington Nationals yesterday placed their struggling right fielder on the 15-day disabled list. Today, Tim Kremchek -- a Cincinnati-based orthopedic surgeon -- will perform arthroscopic surgery to clean up loose bone fragments in Kearns's right elbow. Kearns will miss between three and four weeks, the team said. The Nationals will wait until today to make a corresponding roster move, General Manager Jim Bowden said.
Given its outfield production, with the poorest power numbers in the league, Washington may look to promote an outfielder. Alex Escobar, 29, hitting .310 with Class AAA Columbus, and Mike Daniel or Justin Maxwell, top prospects with Class AA Harrisburg, are among the options. Columbus outfielder Ryan Langerhans also might be called upon if his hamstring is okay.
Kearns, meanwhile, will head to the disabled list for the first time since 2004, when he played in Cincinnati. The Nationals had expected Kearns to solidify the middle of their lineup, given both his history -- he has hit at least 16 home runs for three consecutive seasons -- and their own projections. But in 42 games, Kearns is batting .187 with three home runs and 16 RBI.
Even before his elbow injury, Manager Manny Acta sent Kearns to the bench, hoping some extra time in the batting cage would straighten out his swing.
Acta, of course, wasn't planning for Kearns to get an entire month off -- a lengthy layoff that has no benefit.
"You can only get out of slumps by playing," Acta said. "Your batting average is not going to change if you're not playing."
With Kearns unable to play since Saturday, the Nationals have installed Elijah Dukes as their regular right fielder, an experiment that might benefit Washington in the future but for now benefits only opposing pitchers. On the season, Dukes has two hits in 30 at-bats.