Church sent down; Escobar to join Nats

Church sent down; Escobar to join Nats

WASHINGTON -- Shortly after they lost to the Orioles on Friday, the Nationals optioned outfielder Ryan Church to Double-A Harrisburg and are expected to purchase the contract outfielder Alex Escobar on Saturday. The team also transferred right-hander Pedro Astacio from the 15-day to 60-day disabled list.

This will mark the second time this season that Church was sent to the Minor Leagues. He started the season for Triple-A New Orleans after Brandon Watson beat him out for the center-field job. Church returned to the team on April 13 and, except for a three-game spurt in which he hit four home runs and nine RBIs in April, didn't provide the spark the Nationals were looking for. Overall, he hit .215 with four home runs and 11 RBIs.

"He has to get back to doing what he's capable of doing," manager Frank Robinson said. "He's a little confused right now. He's swinging at the pitcher's pitches and taking his pitch. He's not focused on what he wants to do at the plate. We want him to get back in a good groove"

Asked why Church was sent to Harrisburg and not Triple-A New Orleans, Robinson said, "Harrisburg is a little closer [to Washington]. The environment is a little better down there. They are winning down there. We want him to get some at-bats and get himself straightened out. It doesn't really matter if it's Double-A or Triple-A. He is not in tune right now. It looks like he is not going to get it done here at this time."

As in Spring Training, some in the Nationals organization didn't like Church's body language. They felt he didn't show enough fire to play the game. One baseball source said Chruch was never into the game when he was on the bench.

Church, who took the news very well, said he was never the same player after having flu-like symptoms while the team was in St. Louis in late April. When he was healthy enough to return to action, Church found himself benched for a week in favor of Marlon Byrd, who was swinging a hot bat. Church went on to go 4-for-20 [.200] with two RBIs after he got over the flu.

"We are in a situation where we are playing badly and I'm not really tearing it up. I have that option left and they told me to find myself," Church said. "After I came back from being sick, I just totally lost everything. I was trying to force it and try to get back into it. It wasn't happening, so I'm taking this as a blessing and do what I have to do to get back."

As for Escobar, he will play in the big leagues for the first time since 2004, when he was with the Indians. Robinson said that Escobar, 27, will be in the starting lineup on Saturday against the Orioles.

Escobar's career has been riddled with injuries. He was the Mets' No. 1 prospect in 2001, but after he was traded to the Indians in a deal for Roberto Alomar, he found himself on the disabled list in three out of the last four years because of knee and foot problems.

General manger Jim Bowden acquired Escobar from the White Sox in February 2005 for outfielder Jerry Owens. Escobar didn't play a game for the Nationals that year because of a right foot fracture. In fact, he was still having problems with the foot during the exhibition season and didn't start the Minor League season on time.

Escobar was hitting .298 with four home runs and 19 RBIs in 28 games for Double-A Harrisburg.

Astacio, who has yet to play a game for the Nationals this season because of a right forearm strain, threw batting practice on Friday and didn't feel any pain.

"He hasn't had any setbacks," Robinson said. "When he goes out and throws, you have to wait a day or two to see how he feels after that. He threw the ball pretty decent today without any complaints."

Astacio may not pitch for the Nationals until after the All-Star break.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.