Washington Nationals right-hander Tony Armas Jr. sounded mystified yesterday. Thursday night in Atlanta, he gave up seven runs in the first three innings of an 8-7 loss to the Braves. He has now given up 11 runs in his last seven innings. Asked if he thought Armas would ever throw another effective start for the Nationals, Manager Frank Robinson tried his best to be light-hearted.

"Yeah," Robinson said. "But I don't know how old I'll be."

"We'll see about it," Armas said. "Right now, I don't have a clue."

Because of a shoulder injury to Ryan Drese, trades of Zach Day and Tomo Ohka, and the loss of both Claudio Vargas and Sun Woo Kim on waivers, the Nationals' rotation is tissue-thin. Now, Armas's struggles exacerbate the problem. Twice in August he left starts early with shoulder problems. Yesterday, he said his health might be an issue.

"It feels dead," he said of his shoulder. "The fastball, I didn't feel like I had the explosion on it."

Armas is scheduled to start Tuesday against Florida. Though it's possible a minor leaguer could be called up in his place, Robinson didn't sound as if there was any other alternative.

"Who's it going to be?" Robinson said. "We don't have other starters here."

Vidro Improves

The evaluation of second baseman Jose Vidro's inflamed right knee went much better than expected yesterday, well enough that the team delayed an MRI exam. Team physician Bruce Thomas said there's a chance Vidro could play by the end of the weekend. He had an injection to stop swelling, and responded well. If the knee doesn't improve, Vidro will have an MRI exam Monday. . . .

The Nationals called up infielder Rick Short and outfielders Brandon Watson and Kenny Kelly from Class AAA New Orleans, where they escaped Hurricane Katrina because the team left for the road Saturday, two days before the storm struck.

"I don't have any family or friends or anybody down there," Short said. "But just seeing the pictures, and seeing a restaurant or someplace you went to get a drink or something, it's tough."

Short finished his minor league season hitting .383.