- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 21, 2009

VIERA, Fla. | Jose Rijo, who is at the center of the scandal involving the Dominican prospect who created a fake identity, has taken a leave of absence from the Washington Nationals.

Rijo, a former All-Star pitcher with the Reds and currently the special assistant to Nationals general manager Jim Bowden, had been in uniform and on the field through the first week of workouts this spring. But he was noticeably absent Saturday, the first day Bowden was in attendance at camp.

Rijo was essential in signing the Dominican prospect who went by the name Esmailyn Gonzalez and helped convince the Nationals to give the shortstop a $1.4 million signing bonus. This week, team president Stan Kasten confirmed that the player falsified his name and age. His real identity is Carlos Alvarez — and he’s currently 23, not 19 as the team previously believed.

Kasten said Rijo, whose mother is ailing in the Dominican Republic, met with front-office officials and decided to take this leave. He gave no timetable for Rijo’s return.

“With all the questions swirling and with all the work being done still on this matter, we felt it would be a good time for him to be away from here,” Kasten said. “And this is sad, but it is true, his mother has been ailing. So we said OK, this would just make more sense. So that’s why he has left.”

Attempts to reach Rijo have been unsuccessful. Kasten said Rijo remains a Nationals employee, and no one else from the club has been asked to leave at this point.

Asked if he was worried Rijo’s presence in camp might have been a distraction, Kasten said: “Yeah, there was a general feeling, I think. And knowing how intrepid you reporters are, we didn’t want to invite continued scrutiny of Jose while he would otherwise be trying to work. So this is just sensible.”

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