Notes: Bowden has faith in Church

Notes: Bowden has faith in Church

ATLANTA -- General manager Jim Bowden said this is not Ryan Church's last chance to prove to the Nationals that he is an everyday player. Bowden is one of Church's biggest supporters and still believes the outfielder has the potential to be a good player.

"Ryan has a tremendous amount of potential," Bowden said. "He was well-sought-after before the trade deadline for a reason. He has great hands. He has got some things he has to make adjustments on. But what I like is he understands his weaknesses that he needs to work on."

In order to get better, Church has decided to play Winter Ball in Mexico and learn how to handle soft breaking balls. Church also is going to work with visualization specialist Bill Harrison on tracking the baseball.

"Even though his depth perception and eyes are as good as anyone in baseball, he has trouble tracking that soft stuff away," Bowden said. "He has to get to the point where he can hit it, and hit it hard. So with Mexico and visualization, Church is showing this organization that he wants to get better and he understands his deficiencies. And he needs to work on it."

Entering Sunday's action, Church was hitting .245 with seven home runs and 22 RBIs.

Injury report: First baseman Nick Johnson did not play against the Braves on Sunday because of a left cervical strain suffered in a collision with Atlanta's Jeff Francoeur on Saturday night. Bowden believes Johnson will be ready to play on Tuesday against the Phillies. Johnson said after Sunday's game that he felt much better, but is still a little sore.

On Saturday, the fifth spot in the Nationals' starting rotation is up against the Diamondbacks. Left-hander Mike O'Connor is the likely candidate to make the start. O'Connor is on the disabled list because of a sore left elbow, but is currently rehabbing at Triple-A New Orleans.

Left-hander Micah Bowie, on the disabled list because of a left shoulder blade strain threw hard on flat ground and didn't feel any pain. He hopes to start throwing from the mound on Tuesday.

Numbers game: Starting Tuesday, Felipe Lopez will wear No 2. instead of No. 7. Lopez said he wore No. 2 his entire career before becoming a member of the Nationals in a trade on July 13.

Kudos, Randy: Bowden praised pitching coach Randy St. Claire for turning Ryan Wagner around as a pitcher. In his last four appearances, Wagner has not given up an earned run, covering 7 1/3 innings.

St. Claire received video tapes of Wagner from when the right-hander was at the University of Houston, and he noticed that Wagner was successful throwing almost in a sidearm delivery. St. Claire has Wagner throwing that way instead of the over-the-top delivery that he had with the Reds.

"I've learned that Randy St. Claire is a good pitching coach, and he has done a tremendous job with these young pitchers," Bowden said. "You see what he has done with Ryan Wagner at this level. It has been remarkable. Ryan should not have been here. He should have been in the Minor Leagues doing this. It tells you about Randy St. Claire's work ethic and the time and effort he puts into it, and Ryan Wagner's ability to adjust."

St. Claire said Wagner's fastball is almost perfect, but he still needs to bring his slider down in the strike zone. St. Claire believes Wagner will be a major player out of the bullpen next year.

"The fastball is almost identical to where he came up [to the big leagues in 2003]," St. Claire said. "He's getting there."

Coming to the Show: The Nationals will make call-ups based upon needs when rosters expand on Friday. They most likely will bring up two pitchers right away and make other call-ups at a later date.

Be a part of the mailbag: The Nationals mailbag runs on Monday. Send in your questions now.

Stat of the day: Entering Sunday, the Nationals are 17-25 in series finales this season.

Did you know? Even though he has just 87 at-bats, Alex Escobar ranks second on the Nationals in sacrifice flies, with four.

Coming up: The Nationals have the day off on Monday, but they return to Robert F. Kennedy Stadium to play a three-game series against the Phillies starting Tuesday night at 7:05 p.m. ET. The last time these two teams met was a week ago in Philadelphia. The Phillies won two out of three games.

On Tuesday, right-hander Tony Armas Jr. will take the mound for Washington, while right-hander Brett Myers goes to the hill for Philadelphia.

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