Notes: Healthy Kearns, happy Kearns

Notes: Healthy Kearns, happy Kearns

WASHINGTON -- Nationals outfielder Austin Kearns no longer has to hear anyone ask when he will play a full season in the big leagues. Kearns acknowledged that he was tired of the question, but he understood why it was asked.

From 2002-04, injuries limited Kearns to a combined 253 games. Last year, he didn't get hurt, but the Reds sent him down to the Minor Leagues, where he played 21 games for Triple-A Louisville.

This year has been a different story, however, as the 26-year-old Kearns is having the best season of his career, hitting a combined .261 with 22 home runs and 79 RBIs in 142 games with the Reds and Nationals. Washington acquired Kearns on July 13 in an eight-player deal with Cincinnati that was considered by many to be a steal for the Nationals.

"I'm most happy getting a full season in, playing every day and not missing any time," Kearns said. "But I think there is room for improvement and I can do better. It's nice that I don't have to hear the questions like, 'Can you stay healthy?' or 'Can play for a full season?' You get tired of answering those questions every year. I understand the questions, because of the history. I know I can play every day, and it's nice to finally be doing it."

In terms of room for improvement, hitting coach Mitchell Page said that he would like to see Kearns go to right field and the right-center-field gap much more because of Kearns' tendency to pull the ball.

"He has a couple of holes that cause him to fly off," Page said. "I want to keep him back behind the ball. He has already shown that he can hit the ball to right-center field -- I just want him to be more consistent, driving the balls in the gap and letting everything else take over," Page said.

A sore right groin kept Kearns from starting Friday's game, but he was back in the lineup on Saturday night against the Brewers. He would like to drive in 90 runs before the season is over.

"It's probably something that's probably not going to get better until the season is over," Kearns said. "I'm trying to monitor [the injury]."

Pitching change: With Jason Bergmann and Billy Traber struggling, the Nationals decided on Saturday that right-hander Beltran Perez will get the start against the Braves on Tuesday.

Since being called up on Sept. 2, Perez has worked out of the bullpen, giving up one run in 5 2/3 innings. However, as a starter, he was 8-6 with a 3.11 ERA for Double-A Harrisburg.

Bergmann and Traber will work out of the bullpen.

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Stats of the day: The Nationals entered Saturday's game 25-35 against National League East teams, 18-19 against NL Central teams and 13-19 against the NL West.

Did you know? Nationals first base coach Davey Lopes managed the Brewers from 2000-02. Current Brewers Geoff Jenkins, Bill Hall and Ben Sheets played for Lopes during that period.

Coming up: The Nationals will play the final game of their three-game series with the Brewers on Sunday afternoon at RFK Stadium. Left-hander Michael O'Connor (3-7, 4.83 ERA) will take the mound for Washington against Milwaukee left-hander Doug Davis (10-10, 4.95 ERA).

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