- The Washington Times - Friday, March 3, 2006

VIERA, Fla. — The inaugural World Baseball Classic has snatched eight players away from the Washington Nationals spring training camp for the next few weeks.

The Nationals pitching staff will feel those absences the most, with four pitchers gone to the WBC. The club’s spring training schedule doesn’t make things any easier with four split-squad games coming up over the next 11 days. Factor in that ace Livan Hernandez, right-hander Ryan Drese and newly acquired right-hander Pedro Astacio are not ready to pitch this spring, and the Nationals need some available arms.

In order to have enough pitchers for the split-squad games, the Nationals plan on using minor leaguers: left-hander Jason Norderum and right-hander Shawn Hill. Norderum and Hill, who turned down the chance to pitch for Canada in the WBC as he returns from Tommy John elbow surgery, reported early to the Nationals minor league camp that begins Wednesday.

“It’s [WBC] taking its toll on everybody else, too,” Nationals pitching coach Randy St. Claire said. “We’re looking to do the best we can.”

Fick to have surgery

Nationals catcher/first baseman Robert Fick is scheduled to undergo arthroscopic surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow Monday in Cincinnati.

Nationals senior medical consultant Tim Kremchek will perform the procedure. Fick, who injured his elbow lifting weights this offseason, is expected to be out two to four weeks and may be ready for Opening Day on April 3. Fick will return to the spring training complex here on Tuesday and immediately begin his rehab.

The Nationals signed Fick to a one-year, $850,000 guaranteed contract this offseason. He said he intended to play this season and then have surgery. The Nationals envision Fick as the backup catcher to Brian Schneider, but the bone chips would not let Fick throw the ball in camp without experiencing pain.

Lawrence’s thoughts

Right-hander Brian Lawrence said yesterday he may have pitched with a torn rotator cuff for the past three seasons and didn’t know it.

“Now, looking back, I honestly can say I think I’ve pitched with this the last couple of years,” Lawrence said. “There wasn’t any pain. I didn’t feel it other than being maybe a little weaker than normal. My first couple of years in the big leagues, I was out there and felt strong. I lost about five miles per hour about three years ago and it just never came back. So, I’m thinking now maybe it has been there for a while and I just didn’t know it. I was able to pitch with it.”

Lawrence, who was acquired from the San Diego Padres in an offseason deal for third baseman Vinny Castilla, underwent “extensive” shoulder surgery Sunday in Washington to repair tears to both the labrum and rotator cuff on his throwing shoulder. Lawrence is expected to be out for the season.

Old buddies

As Nationals manager Frank Robinson was conducting a pre-game interview with a reporter in the Nationals dugout, a fan handed Robinson a piece of paper and then said, “I can still get you out.”

At first, Robinson had no idea who this pushy fellow was until he read the name on the paper and heard the man speak. Alan Flaugher, 77, of Brooksville, Ky., played minor league ball with Robinson in the early 1950s. Robinson and Flaugher were teammates on a Class A team in Ogden, Utah, in 1953.

“He joined us out of high school in ‘53 and he was 17 years old,” said Flaugher, who is a retired tobacco farmer. “We knew right then where he was going. We were together four years. We went from [Ogden] to Columbia [S.C.]. We had a heck of a team [in Ogden].

Of the Pioneer League’s regular-season champions, ERA champion Flaugher said: “We had five good pitchers plus we had Frank. He would knock them over those lights. We taped him one night in Salt Lake City. He hit one 550 feet. That’s a true story.”

Extra bases

Prospective Nationals owner Mark Lerner attended yesterday’s game and sat with general manager Jim Bowden in the box seats behind home plate. … By agreeing to terms with Chad Cordero, the Nationals have no unsigned players left on their 40-man roster. The Nationals signed Cordero to a one-year contract yesterday. … Right-hander Kyle Denney will start today’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton, Fla. Denney is a replacement for Tony Armas Jr., who reported to the Venezuelan national team camp in preparation for the WBC.

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