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07/29/10 8:27 PM ET

El Duque makes season debut in Minors

WASHINGTON -- Right-hander Orlando Hernandez made his season debut for the Gulf Cost Nationals on Wednesday. He pitched an inning and allowed a run on two hits as they defeated the Marlins, 3-2.

It was Hernandez's first professional appearance since 2009 when he was playing for Triple-A Oklahoma, the Rangers affiliate.

Hernandez, who is known as El Duque, is in his second tenure with the organization. On Jan. 15, 2003, Hernandez was part of a three-team trade that sent him from the Yankees to the Expos. However, he never played a Major League game for the Expos. After pitching one Spring Training game, Hernandez went on the disabled list and then had rotator cuff surgery.

Hernandez, 44, is 90-65 with a 3.72 ERA in nine big league seasons. He is best known for his years with the Yankees. He helped them win three consecutive World Series titles from 1998 to 2000. He also helped the White Sox win a World Series in 2005. Hernandez's best season was in 1999, when he went 19-7 with a 4.12 ERA for New York.

Miss Iowa USA to deliver first pitch Friday

WASHINGTON -- Miss Iowa, meet Miguel Batista.

Batista, who made a joking reference to seeing Miss Iowa compared with Miss Universe when he replaced Stephen Strasburg the other night, will connect with Katherine Conners when Miss Iowa USA throws out the first pitch before Friday's game against the Phillies.

The Nationals invited her, and Batista clarified his remarks, saying now: "People started booing me, and they hadn't seen me throw a pitch yet. It's like you hear Miss Iowa and you say, 'Iowa?' And then you see her up close and you say, 'Wow, she's gorgeous.'"

Batista talked after Thursday's game about getting ready for the event and said he wants to see how she throws -- but he won't have anything to do with pageant paraphernalia.

"I have to find out if she can be accurate or very wild when she throws, so I have to be careful," he said. "If she thinks I'm going to be practicing the swimsuit and the high heels, not a chance. She beat me already, because I'm not even going to try. I think the Nationals uniform is good enough."

Workhorse Batista needed in bullpen

WASHINGTON -- Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said he wants to stay away from using Miguel Batista, the emergency fill-in for Stephen Strasburg on Tuesday night, until Friday.

Batista threw five solid innings in his start, but the Washington bullpen needs him out there. That appears to be a big reason the club put Strasburg on the disabled list Thursday, to keep Batista working out of the 'pen.

Although there's no question the veteran knows how to take care of his arm and can pitch a lot, the Nationals don't want to push things too much with Batista.

When asked before Thursday's game when the 39-year-old Batista would be ready to go, Riggleman just smiled.

"Yesterday," he said with a laugh. "He's unbelievable. He's really taken care of his arm through the years, because he throws any time and all the time."

Batista entered Thursday's game with a 1-2 record and a 4.09 ERA in 37 games this season.

Riggleman said they can get innings from Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett and possibly Joel Peralta. The bottom line -- no Batista on Thursday unless it's an emergency.

Nats navigate traditionally difficult month

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals entered Thursday's series finale with a 9-13 record in July and are doing much better than they've done in this month during the last few years.

Washington was just 9-18 in July 2009 and fared even worse in '08, posting a 5-19 record that month. This month is going to be the team's best July since they went 14-12 in 2007.

What makes this July's mark even more impressive is that the Nationals have played teams with a winning record in 16 of their 22 games. At the end of July, 19 of their 25 games will be against teams over .500.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. Jeff Seidel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.