Notes: Nats enjoy return to Canada

Notes: Nats enjoy return to Canada

TORONTO -- Returning to the Great White North brought a smile to Brad Wilkerson's face.

The last man to wear a Montreal Expos uniform (he played as an Expo during an All-Star tour of Japan last fall), Wilkerson said he was happy to be back in Canada as the Nationals prepared to open a three-game Interleague series against the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday.

A longtime Expo, Wilkerson was eager to see some old friends who had made the trip down from Montreal for the series, which falls on a three-day holiday weekend in Canada.

"It's great for the fans that we're coming back this year," Wilkerson said. "It's going to be great to see people I haven't seen in a while, to see all the Montreal hats and jerseys."

Nationals catcher Brian Schneider, another longtime Expo, shared Wilkerson's excitement, but he would have preferred a different venue.

"I wish we could be in Montreal for a couple of days instead of Toronto, because it would be good to see a lot of friends, people we haven't seen in a while," said Schneider.

The return of the team once known as the Expos didn't pack the stands at Toronto's Rogers Centre for Friday's opener; despite a warm spring evening, the stadium was less than half full as the game began.

Wilkerson received a mix of cheers and boos when he was announced as the game's first batter.

Washington manager Frank Robinson, who spent three seasons managing in Montreal, said he understood why jilted Expos fans would pass on coming out to watch the Nationals.

"Things happened in the past that turned people off -- promises, young players being sold off and not being replaced," Robinson said. "That would wear on anybody."

Coming back to Canada didn't mean too much to Robinson, but he admitted it would be nice if some Expos fans showed up to cheer for the Nats.

"There were a lot of Cubs fans in the stands when we played the Cubs back home, and I'm sure [the Chicago players] felt good about that," Robinson said.

"It would be a nice touch if there was a group that could be heard over the Toronto fans."

Patterson still sidelined: Pitcher John Patterson, who has been bothered by back spasms, won't make his scheduled start Sunday against the Blue Jays.

"There's no sense in rushing him," said Robinson, who hopes Patterson will be ready to start next Wednesday in Cincinnati. "We'll give him a couple more days."

The lanky right-hander has had a problem with his back since throwing a bullpen session in Arizona last week. The pain got worse in his start against Chicago on Sunday.

Japanese right-hander Tomo Ohka (2-3, 4.04 ERA) is expected to start in Patterson's place on Sunday against Toronto righty Josh Towers (5-1, 3.17 ERA).

   Jose Guillen  /   RF
Born: 05/17/76
Height: 5'11"
Weight: 190 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R

Feeling fine: Outfielder Jose Guillen, who has missed the past three games because of a rib-cage muscle strain and a sore left triceps, returned to the lineup on Friday. Guillen started in right field and batted third.

"I feel fine now," Guillen said. "There's not any soreness anymore."

Also in the lineup Friday was Jeffrey Hammonds, who was serving as the Nats' designated hitter as the team made its Interleague debut. Robinson said he gave the right-handed Hammonds the start to let him face Toronto lefty Ted Lilly.

It's the third straight start for Hammonds, who went 2-for-4 and drove in the only run of the game in Washington's 1-0 victory over Milwaukee on Wednesday.

Cordero begins rehab stint: Infielder Wil Cordero, who hasn't played since April 7 because of torn cartilage in his left knee, has started a rehab stint with Class A Potomac and will remain there until the Nationals complete their current 10-day road trip.

Robinson said he wants Cordero to get as many at-bats as possible and that the veteran will start in the field every other day.

"It shouldn't take him long as far as his bat is concerned," Robinson said.

Also on the mend is reliever T.J. Tucker, who's been out since April 20 with a right groin strain. He'll begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A New Orleans on Sunday.

Trade winds swirling around Wells: There's been talk that interim general manager Jim Bowden is interested in acquiring Toronto center fielder Vernon Wells. But the former first-round pick had little to say about the rumors before Friday's game.

"I haven't heard anything," Wells said. "Anybody can get traded at any time. That's part of the game."

Wells has struggled out of the gate this season. He entered play Friday with a .217 batting average, six homers and 18 RBIs.

The Texas native said trade talk doesn't affect him.

"Honestly, baseball is baseball to me," he said. "I'm going to go out and play, no matter where it is, no matter what city it's in. I enjoy playing the game, and if it's here in Toronto, then it's here in Toronto. If it's someplace else, then it's someplace else."

On deck: The Nats and Jays continue their three-game set with a 4:07 p.m. ET start on Saturday. Tony Armas (1-1, 3.55 ERA) faces Toronto ace Roy Halladay (6-2, 3.13 ERA).

Ian Harrison is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.