- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 10, 2007

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Each outing is a learning experience for Matt Chico, and even if the results yesterday were less than desired, the Washington Nationals rookie left-hander did leave the ballpark a little wiser.

“There’s a lot to take out of this,” Chico said after suffering a 4-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles. “I’ve got to do a little more with my mechanics. And I’ve got to make the right pitches in certain situations. The last guy I faced, I got him with the slider on the first pitch, and I just wouldn’t go back to it. That’s a mistake I’m learning from.”

Nationals manager Manny Acta tried to take some positives out of Chico’s 21/3-inning, four-run, six-hit performance as well. He particularly noted the way Chico responded to a bases-loaded walk by striking out Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada on three pitches.

“He battled,” Acta said. “The biggest thing out of this was the bases-loaded strikeout of Tejada. That was a big test for him. I’m happy with the way he threw the ball.”

Chico, perhaps the surprise story of spring training for Washington, didn’t do much to help his cause for a spot in the Opening Day rotation. But he didn’t appear to severely hurt himself, either.

Five of the six hits Chico gave up were singles, most of them on ground balls. And though the 23-year-old had some trouble falling behind hitters, he was admittedly tinkering with his mechanics.

“I’m twisting a lot on the mound, not going straight on my line, and I can’t really hit the inside pitch to a right-hander,” Chico said. “That’s something I’ve been working on all spring. It’s a battle I’ve had my whole life, and I’m trying to fix it.”

Speigner impresses

One rookie pitcher did do something to help his cause. Right-hander Levale Speigner pitched 32/3 scoreless innings in relief of Chico, and in the process threw himself into the starting rotation derby.

Speigner, selected in last winter’s Rule 5 draft, looked sharp in his Grapefruit League debut. He had pitched in accelerated minor league games over the last week but didn’t appear against major leaguers until he was able to build up his pitch count.

Speigner entered in a tight spot, with two on and one out in the third, and he immediately gave up a single to Ramon Hernandez to load the bases. But he responded by getting Jay Gibbons to pop out and Corey Patterson to line out, and then cruised from that point.

“That first inning, I was nervous and trying to squeeze the heck out of the ball,” he said. “That hurt me a little bit. But after I settled down, I just tried to throw a lot of strikes and keep the ball down.”

Speigner, who both started and relieved in the Minnesota Twins organization last season, likely will get more prominent looks in the next week or two as team officials decide whether to keep him on the roster.

“He was real good,” Acta said. “He pounded the strike zone with every one of his pitches and got people out. They didn’t get any good swings off him.”

Extra bases

After having yesterday off, most of the Nationals’ regulars, including Ryan Zimmerman, Brian Schneider, Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez, will be back in the lineup today against the New York Mets. The one possible absence is Cristian Guzman, who still isn’t ready to play shortstop in a major league game and may defer to Alex Escobar for designated hitter duties. Escobar is ready to return after missing the last three days with tightness in his right quadriceps muscle. …

Orioles reliever Paul Shuey, trying to make a major league roster for the first time since 2003, suffered a setback yesterday when he strained his right Achilles’ tendon while delivering a wild pitch to D’Angelo Jimenez in the seventh inning. Shuey is expected to miss at least two weeks, which could quash his hopes of making the Baltimore bullpen.

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