- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 15, 2008

VIERA, Fla. — The short video clip shows Matt Chico rearing back, drawing his right leg all the way up to his right elbow, firing toward home and taking a little hop-step off the mound.

A few days ago, the online video of a high school-age Chico provided a few laughs for other pitchers in the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse. Yesterday afternoon, it set up his best start of spring training.

Returning to the mechanics he had used before minor league coaches told him to shorten up his delivery, Chico allowed one run on three hits in five innings of the Nationals’ 8-4 victory over the Cleveland Indians. It got him back on track after two rough outings and might have kept alive his bid to make the Nationals’ starting rotation.

“I’ve felt better the last three days than I have in three years,” he said.

Nationals pitching coach Randy St. Claire got ahold of the video and told Chico to try the high kick in a throwing session earlier this week. Chico and manager Manny Acta said it added velocity to his fastball, and St. Claire said Chico’s breaking ball was sharper.

“I think it affects his arm path, his arm swing,” St. Claire said. “He has better lines with the high leg lift than he does without it, and his hands work a lot quicker. He doesn’t wrap the ball as much. There’s no pause in his backstroke, and I just like his stuff a whole lot better.”

The most important effect might have been restoring a comfort level Chico has missed since shedding the high leg kick in 2005.

Though the delivery isn’t completely refined yet, St. Claire prefers to have pitchers feeling at ease with their mechanics, rather than trying to coach them through wholesale changes.

“If you change something they’ve been doing for 15 years, I think you’re going to have problems,” St. Claire said. “How they get there isn’t really important to me, just as long as they get there.”

Said Chico: “It feels like it’s me, instead of feeling like a robot.”

Lo Duca to debut Monday

Paul Lo Duca will see his first major league action of the spring against the New York Mets on Monday. The catcher originally had been scheduled to make his return from knee surgery today but will catch three innings in an accelerated minor league camp game instead. He’ll be the designated hitter in the accelerated camp game tomorrow and catch Monday against his old team.

From there, Lo Duca said, the plan is to have him alternate days between catcher and designated hitter.

He went 1-for-4 in Friday’s accelerated camp game and ran the bases without problems.

“Hopefully there’s no issues catching, but that’s going to be the test,” Lo Duca said. “I’m sure it’s going to be a little sore the first time squatting regularly. But I’ve done all my rehab and done all my work, so hopefully I’m prepared for that.”

Extra bases

Jesus Colome made his spring training debut yesterday, pitching a perfect seventh and striking out one. …

Arizona claimed first baseman Josh Whitesell off waivers. The 25-year-old hit .176 in seven spring training games with the Nationals before being designated for assignment to Class AAA Columbus on Monday.

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