- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 15, 2005

VIERA, Fla. — Antonio Osuna has another passion besides baseball. The Nationals pitcher is the lead singer of a band called Norteno.

It’s hard to describe the kind of music Norteno plays. But according to the right-hander, an accordion plays a major role.

“I’ve got a CD,” Osuna said. “It’s not for sale. It’s just for friends. It’s my only CD.”

Osuna’s musical ability makes him extremely popular in the Nationals clubhouse. It’s not uncommon for him to break into song to the delight of his teammates, especially the three other Mexicans on the roster.

“He sings pretty good,” Nationals third baseman Vinny Castilla said. “He doesn’t make money at it. He makes CDs for his friends and other people he knows. They don’t want to sell them right now, so he’s singing for his family and friends.”

The Nationals, who signed Osuna, 31, to an $800,000 contract in the offseason to bolster the club’s bullpen, hope his 90-plus mph fastball makes some noise this season.

It’s unclear exactly how the Nationals plan to use Osuna. Chad Cordero, who finished last season as the closer, likely will start this season back in that role, but Osuna will be counted on in the late innings.

“I prepare for everything, long reliever, closer, set-up man, everything. I’m ready for everything,” Osuna said.

The 10-year veteran arrived to camp two weeks late because he was with his ailing father, who is battling throat cancer. Doctors discovered 12 tumors in Osuna’s father’s neck.

“I call every day and I say, ‘Dad, how do you feel?’ ” Osuna said. “He says, ‘All right, no worries, when the season starts I want to come up with you.’ ”

Osuna is still not in baseball shape because of his late arrival to camp. Ideally, the Nationals would like to see Osuna come into games in the seventh inning or later.

“I don’t know how many innings he can go, but he can be any one of those guys — set-up or closer — because he’s done that before,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. “Him being here, that’s part of him building, that’s part of why we get here early to get yourself into baseball shape. No, he’s not in baseball shape yet and I’m not talking about weight. I’m talking about baseball shape, to be able to physically go out and do his job. He’s not there yet.”

Last year with the San Diego Padres, the 5-foot-10, 225-pound Osuna missed three months with an elbow injury. However, he gave up just one run in 13 appearances after he returned. Overall, he was 2-1 with a 2.46 ERA in 31 games (362/3 innings).

“He’s a good pitcher, man,” Castilla said. “When he’s healthy, he’s got great stuff and he’s going to help us a lot. He’s got a great arm.”

A native of Sinaloa, Mexico, Osuna has a 36-29 career record with a 3.50 ERA and 21 saves. Osuna broke into the majors in 1995 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He also has played with the Chicago White Sox (2001-02), New York Yankees (2003) and Padres (2004).

“He’s a funny guy, everybody loves him,” Castilla said. “He keeps people loose and that’s good.”

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