Gonzalez Call Up Changes Nationals' Plans at Shortstop and in Center Field

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 31, 2009

PHILADELPHIA, May 30 -- Strictly speaking, the roster move the Washington Nationals made on Saturday involved a straight-up swap of old-ish prospects, 25-year-old Justin Maxwell and 26-year-old Alberto Gonzalez. Maxwell, a center fielder, was returned to Class AAA Syracuse after 16 hitless at-bats. Gonzalez, a shortstop, was recalled from Syracuse.

Though the move appeared straightforward -- Maxwell's second big league stint this season ended; Gonzalez's second big league stint began -- it resonated with two veterans, immediately altering the circumstances for outfielder Austin Kearns and shortstop Cristian Guzman.

Washington plucked Gonzalez from the minors largely because it needed a temporary shortstop. Guzman, in a 7-for-42 rut that has dropped his average from .385 to .329, is dealing with a sore thumb that flared up in the previous series against the Mets.

"I can't tell you when it [originally happened], but I know it started to bother him in the cold weather in New York the other day," Manager Manny Acta said.

As a result, Gonzalez will handle the shortstop duties for the next few days.

Meantime, the Nationals must invent something of a comb-over outfield, trying to compensate for a lack of depth. Though Kearns has the strongest arm and best instincts among Washington's outfielders, he hasn't had much of a chance to test them in center -- until Saturday, when he started at the position for the first time since Aug. 19, 2007, and for the 45th time in his career.

"Just more ground you've got to cover," Kearns said. "More responsibility."

On Tuesday, when their next homestand begins, the Nationals are expected to activate Elijah Dukes (hamstring) from the disabled list. But Kearns could start again in center on Sunday, because the Nationals will face another left-handed pitcher, Jamie Moyer.

"The other option would be to put Willie [Harris] out there, and it's not a really good matchup," Acta said. "So we're just trying to get some offense."

Rule 5 Pick Young Returns

Two weeks ago, the Nationals returned Terrell Young, their Rule 5 draft pick, to the Cincinnati Reds. But once Young reported, he complained of shoulder tendinitis -- with symptoms similar to those that held him out of spring training, while with Washington. Because of that injury, Major League Baseball has voided Young's return, meaning that the reliever is back on Washington's 40-man roster. And back on the 15-day disabled list. On Thursday, orthopedist James Andrews will perform exploratory surgery on Young's right shoulder.

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