- The Washington Times - Friday, February 18, 2005

VIERA, Fla. — Chad Cordero, the Washington Nationals’ young reliever, doesn’t consider himself weird. Only his manager does.

“I guess it’s because I’m from California,” Cordero said. “A lot of guys on the team think I’m a little out there because of the way I wear my hat ” it’s all flat and pulled down over my eyes. Plus, they think I’m a laid-back California kid.”

Manager Frank Robinson probably doesn’t care if Cordero wears the hat on his backside as long as he can get hitters out in the ninth inning. But he might not have as many chances to do so as last season, when he led the Montreal Expos in saves (14) and finished with a 2.94 ERA.

Learning yesterday Robinson will use a “closer by committee” approach this season, Cordero said, “I feel fine with whatever they want me to do, whether it’s set-up or closing.”

Cordero, 22, inherited the closer’s role for the Montreal Expos from ineffective Rocky Biddle in early June of last year. Because Cordero does not have a lot of experience as a closer, Robinson decided the most prudent course was to protect his confidence.

“I would prefer not to have him in that role, at least not full time right now,” Robinson said. “I want to take some of the pressure, some of the load off him. I wouldn’t be afraid to have him out there again, but he will not be the full-time closer this year.”

Cordero established a franchise rookie record for saves last season, and his seven wins ranked second behind only the 11 posted by ace Livan Hernandez.

“It’s not his youth, it’s just about the pressure of performing in that situation,” Robinson said. “I don’t want to lose this kid mentally at any time, because he’s going to be something special over his career, I think. I don’t want to put too much pressure on him.”

The Expos selected Cordero with the 20th overall pick in the 2003 first-year player draft. Cordero, who struck out more than a batter an inning (83 strikeouts in 822/3 innings) last season, said there are other reasons for Robinson’s decision.

“It’s to keep our guys fresh and stuff,” Cordero said. “It’s been a little more than a year that I’ve been closing. I know he’s not going to try and overwork me and even Luis [Ayala]. I closed in college, but that’s nothing compared to up here. These guys are great hitters, and if you make one mistake they’ll make you pay for it.”

Ayala, who arrived at camp sharp after playing winter ball in his native Mexico, is another candidate to close. However, Cordero stood up to the challenge last year.

“Cordero responds to anything,” Robinson said. “No fanfare ” just give him the ball. He did a good job. I didn’t look for him to go out there and close lights-out. He did a good job, he handled himself very well, I thought. At times, he tried to be too fine. He needs to stay within himself, the way he pitches.”

The 6-foot-2 Ayala was one of the National League’s better middle relievers and was a set-up man last year.

“My arm is healthy, and I am ready,” Ayala said. “It doesn’t matter if I am the set-up man or the closer. Me and Cordero can do the job.”

Ayala says his sinker is his money pitch, used to get batters to hit ground balls and keep his pitch count reasonable. But Robinson expressed some reservations with Ayala in the closer’s role.

“A lot of that depends on who steps forward this spring, and Ayala’s certainly one [candidate],” Robinson said. “He’s been a closer in Mexico, but I don’t know if he can hold up during the workload. And I certainly don’t want to lose him for any length of time.

“I would not be afraid to use him in the ninth inning of a close ballgame. So, we possibly could have a three-to-four man closer by committee, depending on the situation.”

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