The Nationals' considerable offensive slump during their month-long slide will have General Manager Jim Bowden scouring the team's farm system next week, wondering if there is any sort of solution available in the minors. One distinct possibility: First-round draft pick Ryan Zimmerman, just two months removed from his career at the University of Virginia, could be in Washington before too long.

"My preference, from my development heart, is '06," Bowden said prior to yesterday's game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. "I really don't want to do '05. But is he on my mind every hour on the hour? Yes."

The mere possibility that Zimmerman, a third baseman who entered last night hitting .287 at Class AA Harrisburg, could be called up illustrates how significant the slide of third baseman Vinny Castilla has been. Since June 1, Castilla is hitting .199 and slugging .298, a struggle that is at least partly due to his injured left knee, but one that is further shutting down the Nationals' offense.

Bowden said Zimmerman has played exceptionally at Harrisburg since getting off to a slow start. He has four homers and 17 RBI in 35 games, and is slugging .481 in that time. He could also spell Castilla defensively.

"He's one of the best defensive third basemen in baseball -- right now," Bowden said. "He's one of the best in the game. It's something that has to be considered."

Tony Blanco, the rookie who is on a rehabilitation assignment with AAA New Orleans, entered last night hitting .283 with 14 RBI in 17 games for the Zephyrs, and is playing every day at third base. He could be recalled in the next week.

Church Struggling

Hitting coach Tom McCraw believes that outfielder Ryan Church has altered his approach at the plate, and it is affecting his results. Church is 2 for his last 16, and his average has dropped to .304 as he has struggled to adjust to a pinch-hitting role since the arrival of Preston Wilson from Colorado. "He used to hit the fastball," McCraw said. "Now, for some reason, he lets the fastball go, and tries to hit the breaking ball. Why?"