Five Questions

1. Will Ryan Zimmerman be a National in a week?

Frank Robinson continues to answer the question with the same response: "If he was going to be up before Sept. 1 he'd be here already." Still the mood in the organization has gone from scoffing at the idea that the team's top draft pick this summer could help now to being quite receptive to the idea. General Manager Jim Bowden's orders that the third baseman play the next two weeks at shortstop for the team's Class AA team in Harrisburg makes Zimmerman's immediate arrival even more likely.

Zimmerman, who has looked very good at short in just two games, did play the position exclusively before moving to third in college. He has also made adjustments that are difficult for new professionals to make, especially at Class AA where young prospects often struggle. The biggest change, Zimmerman has said, is not using a wooden bat (he has played in several wood bat leagues) but learning how to play every day. Once he figured that out, his batting average rose to .310.

Robinson bristles at talk about Zimmerman being a savior for the Nationals or even replacing Cristian Guzman or Vinny Castilla in the lineup, but it seems Zimmerman will be here no matter what.

2. How badly have the Padres fallen apart?

The other day shortstop Khalil Greene broke his big toe while diving for a ball, which puts him out for a month. It was his third broken bone in less than a year, and tests by the Padres medical staff show he is calcium deficient. San Diego could have absorbed his injury on its own if that was the only thing ailing the team. But the entire opening day lineup has come unglued.

Catcher Ramon Hernandez has been on the disabled list since July 29 with a cartilage tear in his wrist. First baseman Phil Nevin was traded to Texas. Greene is out at short. Sean Burroughs, the third baseman, is in Class AAA. Left fielder Ryan Klesko has neck and back problems that keep him out of the lineup for days at a time and center fielder Dave Roberts has been bothered by the same hamstring injuries that drove him out of Los Angeles.

Now teammates are turning on Klesko, who is hitting .211 with three home runs since June; and third baseman Joe Randa, picked up from Cincinnati, has been a bust hitting .225 since coming over.

3. Has Kerry Wood found new life as a reliever?

Since being moved to the bullpen Wood has allowed just one hit and thrown seven scoreless innings. Team officials are privately muttering their approval at his effectiveness in becoming simply a fastball and slider pitcher, holding off on throwing curves and changeups.

Wood has even admitted that he is enjoying his new role more than he expected but has also made it clear that he wants to be a starter again. He says he likes the mental approach, which is much simpler for one inning than in an extended start.

The team moved him to the bullpen because his sore shoulder would no longer support his throwing 100 pitches a night. In the offseason the Cubs are going to put together a comprehensive strengthening program that they hope will allow him to be a starter again and not break down the way he has done the past few seasons.

But for someone who throws 97 mph he has the ability to be a fantastic closer.

4. Will Atlanta's bullpen be its Achilles?

Before John Smoltz became the team's closer four years ago the Braves' bullpen always failed them. Most people pointed to it as the sole reason it hasn't won more than the one World Series in this 13 year run of division titles. And when they traded for Milwaukee's Dan Kolb in the offseson they thought they were safe to move Smoltz back into the starting rotation.

While Smoltz has been dominant as a starter, the bullpen has been dreadful. As of now Atlanta does not have a true closer.

Kolb lost the job after blowing five saves in 16 chances. Chris Reitsma, the current closer, leads the National League with seven blown saves, including each of his last three chances. Kyle Farnsworth, picked up from Detroit at the trade deadline, was considered a potential closer but has been so hampered by back problems there are doubts he can handle the job either.

Given the Braves have the worst bullpen in the National League East, it may be too soon to hand a 14th division title to them just yet.

5. Could Billy Wagner be pitching in RFK next year?

Don't rule it out. The Virginia native is a favorite of Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden and negotiations to keep the Phillies closer in Philadelphia are reaching a critical point. Wagner has said that if an extension isn't completed by Sept. 1 he would become a free agent at season's end.

That day is less than two weeks away and the sense Wagner has is that nothing is imminent. He has ordered his agent to keep him informed only of major developments as a way of eliminating distractions. And as of last week, the agent said nothing new had developed.

The Phillies have been vague about their hopes of re-signing Wagner other than to say they would like to have him back. If he goes onto the open market, don't be surprised to see the Nats pursue him. Chad Cordero has had a wonderful season, but Wagner is one of the most intimidating closers in the game and the two could be a great eighth and ninth inning combination.