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Grieving Josh Willingham Rejoins Work 'Family'

Josh Willingham is back with the Nationals but not expected to start for at least the next game or two.
Josh Willingham is back with the Nationals but not expected to start for at least the next game or two. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
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By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 21, 2009

For the past week, Josh Willingham has dealt with grief. He was back home in Florence, Ala., where on June 13 his younger brother, Jon, was killed in a car accident. He was there for the funeral. He stayed home as long as possible, only returning to the Washington Nationals when his bereavement status expired.

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Yesterday was Willingham's first game back. But the Nationals, at least for the first game or two, will hold their outfielder from the starting lineup, well aware of the difference between a player who is available to play and a player who is prepared.

"As we know, Josh wasn't doing any baseball activities over there," Manager Manny Acta said. "So he's gonna hit, do some baseball activities, and if there is a chance we'll probably pinch-hit him. It's probably going to take a day or two before he can be out there playing for us."

Before yesterday's game, Willingham ran the bases, took some swings, and spent a little time in right field -- the position he'll now be playing regularly, especially with Austin Kearns stuck in extended slump mode. Willingham briefly took questions, but didn't wish to talk about the tragedy, only baseball. Still, he acknowledged a degree of comfort in being back.

"Yeah, to see everybody, people care about you, you care about them," he said. "These guys, they're family away from family. It's good to have people, familiar faces and friends, that care about you. And hurt with you."

Olsen Stays Back

So far, pitcher Scott Olsen has made three rehab starts in the minors. That process is aimed to ready him for a return to the Nationals' starting rotation, but so far, it's convinced those watching him that he's not quite ready.

After Olsen's latest start with Class AAA Syracuse, a 3 2/3 -inning, seven-hit, four-earned-run effort on Friday against Columbus, those in the Nationals' front office spoke with the Syracuse coaching staff and determined that the left-hander would need one more rehab start.

Two of Olsen's rehab starts have come with the Chiefs; they've produced 6 2/3 innings and an 8.10 ERA.

"He needs one more outing to come up here -- for his own good and for our good, too," Acta said. "They felt that even when he had good velocity he still wasn't sharp."


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