- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 8, 2006

VIERA, Fla. — The Washington Nationals are breaking out their ace and their newest acquisition.

Livan Hernandez and Pedro Astacio will make their first spring training appearances today against the Florida Marlins in a split-squad game at Space Coast Stadium.

With the Nationals reeling after three consecutive poor spring performances, a strong outing by Hernandez may lift the club’s spirits. Hernandez, who went 15-10 last season with a 3.98 ERA, has been held back this spring after having right knee surgery in the offseason.

Hernandez said he’s not looking to accomplish much against the Marlins in his first game.

“Nothing. Try to throw strikes and make them work a little bit and mix the pitches, [make sure] everything is ready,” said Hernandez, who is scheduled to pitch three innings. “The slider and the curve is ready. We’ll see tomorrow. It’s my first day, and I feel very good. My knee is holding up, and now I’ll try to throw strikes.”

Meanwhile, Astacio, whom the Nationals signed to a one-year, $700,000 incentive-laden deal on Feb.27, will relieve Hernandez. Astacio is one of five pitchers battling for three spots in the Nationals rotation along with Tony Armas Jr., Ramon Ortiz, Ryan Drese and Jon Rauch.

“He may have one more of these backup-type things of coming into a game after a starter. Then he should be in line to start a game,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said of Astacio.

Fick’s recovery

Catcher/first baseman Robert Fick returned to camp yesterday after having bone chips removed from his right elbow Monday in Cincinnati.

Tim Kremchek, a Nationals senior medical consultant, performed the procedure and said Fick should be able to start hitting within a week. Fick isn’t so sure he will be back to baseball activities that quickly.

“It’s only been a few days, so I’ve got to wait for the swelling to go down and the stitches to come out, and we’ll go from there,” said Fick, who hit .265 with three home runs and 30 RBI last season as a bench player with the San Diego Padres. “The doctor told me I’ll be swinging a bat by this weekend, but I don’t think that will happen.”

Guzman ailing

Starting shortstop Cristian Guzman exited yesterday’s game after the third inning with a sore shoulder. The Nationals might limit his work for a few days to see whether the pain dissipates.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To submit a question, go to the http://www.washingtontimes.com/sports>Sports Page

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