- The Washington Times - Monday, April 4, 2005

Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson ended any speculation by officially naming Chad Cordero his closer yesterday.

“I haven’t told him, and you guys are going to swamp him with it, but he has already said he is the closer. Chad Cordero, he’s already said to you from day one of spring training that he is the closer, so that’s not news. It’s just putting the official stamp on it,” Robinson said.

Cordero, 23, had three saves in 92/3 innings this spring. He struck out nine and allowed three earned runs on 10 hits.

“It feels good to actually know your role, and it’s always good to know what role you’re going to be in,” Cordero said. “It’s good to know exactly when I’m going to go in. This spring I was throwing a lot fewer pitches per inning. Last year, I was throwing about 25 pitches per inning, and this year it’s about 10. I wasn’t walking many guys, and that’s something I had trouble with last year.”

Last season, the ineffective Rocky Biddle handled the closer’s role early for the Montreal Expos before Cordero took over in the first week in June. Cordero finished the season with a franchise rookie record 14 saves.

“Last year, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be on that team or not because I was just drafted the year before and only spent a month in the big leagues and thought I was going back to the minors or something and start off there,” he said. “So, this year, I’d known I already had a year and was trying to go [to spring training] and work on being more aggressive and not worried about other stuff.”

Church ailing

Nationals outfielder Ryan Church left yesterday’s exhibition in the sixth inning with tightness in his right groin and is listed as day-to-day.

Robinson may hold Church out of today’s season-opener in Philadelphia, though Church said he took himself out of the exhibition merely as a precaution. If Church can’t play, Robinson said Brad Wilkerson would move from left to center.

Church provided the Nationals’ only runs before leaving when he hit a three-run homer an estimated 400 feet off Victor Zambrano for the first runs of the game in the second inning. The Mets rallied to win 4-3.

“I felt something going on that wasn’t right … and plus with the [cold weather and wind] out there, all it takes is one little thing, and then you’re out and could miss a couple weeks or even half your season,” Church said. “[Nationals trainer Tim Abraham] kept reminding me, ‘Yeah, dude, hey, it’s an exhibition game.’ I’ll reiterate that. It’s just a little nagging thing. It’s nothing to be worried about. If it was a regular game, I play.”

Castilla draws ire

It didn’t take Vinny Castilla long to get on the wrong side of D.C. fans. On a routine grounder in the sixth inning, Castilla didn’t try to beat out the throw to first even though Mets shortstop Anderson Hernandez momentarily bobbled the ball.

Hernandez was still able to throw out Castilla, causing the 25,453 who braved yesterday’s chilly conditions at RFK Stadium to rain Castilla with a chorus of boos.

“With my knee, I don’t want to push it too much before Opening Day,” Castilla said. “I always hustle, but today, I’m coming off a knee injury, and I don’t want to hurt it again the day before Opening Day. It was cold, and that’s why I didn’t go hard and pull something. I won’t do that in the season.”

Castilla, 37, missed 10 Grapefruit League games when he hyperextended his left knee chasing a foul pop up March18 against the Mets in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Castilla did not return to the lineup until Thursday against the Florida Marlins.

Extra bases

Robinson said he’s still undecided on today’s lineup. For the fourth straight exhibition, first baseman Nick Johnson hit leadoff and went 1-for-4. Robinson planned to write four or five different lineups last night on the train to Philadelphia before deciding. Wilkerson likely will hit first after batting leadoff in 107 games last season and posting a .382 on-base percentage from the top slot. …

Nationals left-hander Micah Bowie, a minor league invitee, left the game in the sixth inning in bizarre fashion. Bowie threw two pitches and headed to the dugout with what was diagnosed as a left triceps strain.

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