- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2007

VIERA, Fla. — Jim Bowden wouldn’t call it a first, but the Washington Nationals’ general manager couldn’t think of a precedent.

Opening training camp with four spots in the rotation up for grabs? Unheard of.

“I’ve never seen it or heard of it,” Bowden said. “I’ve been in the game since 1984, and I can’t tell you before that. But I’ve never seen it.”

So the auditions taking place here at the Carl Barger training complex and, starting today, at Space Coast Stadium with intrasquad games are more than a bit unusual.

“I don’t know if that is something you make history over,” Bowden said. “But come Opening Day, we’ll have five starters probably better than the five we had last year.”

That depends. Are we talking about the Opening Day staff of Livan Hernandez, John Patterson, Ramon Ortiz, Tony Armas and Ryan Drese? Or are we talking about the staff of late last season, when it consisted of Ortiz, Armas, Billy Traber, Pedro Astascio and Jason Bergmann?

A more realistic goal for Bowden probably would be a rotation better than one that includes Billy Traber.

Bowden also revealed something else apparently without precedent. He found someone smarter than himself: Nationals president Stan Kasten.

“I’ve never worked for anyone who was smarter than I am,” Bowden said.

Just what Kasten — a guy who expands the concept of smartest guy in the room to the planetary level — needs to hear.

Bowden said he has never worked with anyone so driven to do things the right way.

“I’ve learned a lot from him,” Bowden said. “And he does it behind the scenes like he did in Atlanta. We brought over the formula from Coca-Cola. We have a formula here to win. It’s not public, because then everybody would do it.”

Fans should hope the formula isn’t for new Coke.

Part of that formula might prove difficult for fans. They are being asked, after waiting 34 years for major league baseball to return to Washington, to wait a little longer.

Bowden, though, says the product the Nats put on the field in the final year of baseball at RFK Stadium will be worth watching.

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