Church 'shocked' after being optioned by Nats

VIERA, Fla. -- For the second straight spring, the
trajectory of Washington Nationals outfielder Ryan Church's major
league career was affected by a surprising roster move on the
Tuesday before Opening Day.

This time around, Church was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans,
meaning rookie Brandon Watson and Marlon Byrd will share time in
center field.
A year ago, Church was the beneficiary of such a move, knowing
he had earned a roster spot as a rookie when the Nationals cut Endy
Chavez shortly before heading north. To that point, Chavez was
thought to be Washington's starting center fielder and leadoff
"This is a whole 180, to say the least," said Church, who was
chosen the NL rookie of the month in May last season but later lost
time to injuries. He wound up hitting .287 with nine homers and 42
RBIs in 102 games for Washington.
"Shocked. Only word I can say. That's it: shocked," Church
Watson, godson of former major leaguer Eric Davis, spent time in
2005 at Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A New Orleans, hitting .355
at the higher level. He batted .250 in 40 at-bats with the
Nationals, and he homered in his major league debut Aug. 9.
General manager Jim Bowden said Tuesday's decision came down to
Watson having a better spring than Church.
Though Church said: "I didn't think I was in a competition."
Watson entered Tuesday with a .311 average, a .368 on-base
percentage, and seven steals in eight attempts. Church was hitting
"Brandon Watson outplayed him, outhit him, got on base, stole
bases, got a good percentage of stolen bases, did the things that
we asked him to do. And [Watson] deserves that shot. You can't ask
him to do any more than he's done in this spring training," Bowden
said. "Ryan will be back. He's a guy who will hit in the big
leagues. He's going to hit home runs, he's going to drive runs in.
He's a good player. We are not down on him at all."
In other moves, Washington purchased the contracts of shortstop
Royce Clayton and first baseman Daryle Ward from Triple-A New
Orleans; both came to camp on minor league deals. Clayton already
had slid into a starting job because of Cristian Guzman's right
shoulder injury, while it appears Ward will make the club in a
reserve role.
Clayton ($1 million) and Ward ($700,000) now have guaranteed
major league deals.
Right-handers Luis Ayala (elbow) and Brian Lawrence (shoulder)
were switched to the 60-day disabled list from the 15-day DL, so
they won't count against the 40-man roster limit.
The Nationals also optioned right-hander Jason Bergmann and
infielder Brendan Harris to New Orleans and reassigned left-hander
Bill Bray to minor league camp. Bray impressed the team, not
allowing a run or a walk in his last four exhibition outings, and
could be brought back if the Nationals need a lefty in the bullpen.
Similarly, the expectation -- both the player's and management's
-- is that Church will not spend a lot of time at New Orleans.
"I don't belong there, I'll tell you that," Church said. "I
told them, 'I'll see you in a couple weeks."'
Bowden praised the outfielder for taking the news well, and said
he wants Church to get into a groove in the minors by playing every
day, rather than splitting time in the minors.
"Brandon Watson gave all of us the impression he would help us
more out of the gate than Church would," Bowden said. "We didn't
want Church to sit on the bench. He's got too much talent."