- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 24, 2005

VIERA, Fla. — After a week of nothing but bullpen sessions and batting practice off coaches, Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson finally let his players loose yesterday.

The 11 pitchers who were scheduled to throw in the bullpen instead worked against live hitters. So for a good hour of the morning workout at the Carl Barger Complex, Esteban Loaiza, Tony Armas Jr., Luis Ayala and others had their way with an obviously overwhelmed group of Nationals hitters.

“It’s torture for the hitters because they’re not ready yet,” Robinson said. “They haven’t seen the balls coming more than 40 to 50 [mph], and they’ve all been straight. The actual speed and timing of hitters isn’t there yet.”

Armas, in particular, looked solid ” an encouraging sign for the right-hander, who is trying to shake off two seasons of shoulder trouble.

Though pitchers were free to throw anything in their repertoire, Armas stuck with mostly fastballs.

“I didn’t test my change-up,” he said. “I’m just happy to be healthy and to be pitching.”

The hitters, who have only two official days of workouts under their belts, didn’t seem too concerned with their lack of production.

“They don’t want it, but it’s a necessary evil,” Robinson said.

Baerga arrives

Recently signed infielder Carlos Baerga passed his physical in the morning and participated fully in the workout less than 48 hours after signing a minor league contract.

The three-time All-Star, released by the Arizona Diamondbacks after last season, was contacted by Nationals special assistant Jose Rijo earlier this week and was put in touch with interim general manager Jim Bowden.

The deal came together quickly, and though Baerga is admittedly a long shot to make Washington’s roster, he was in good spirits following his first workout.

“I’m very excited,” he said. “I’ve got an opportunity to come back and play baseball. [Bowden] told me, “I believe in you, and I think you can help our team.’ ”

Baerga, 36, worked out all winter at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in Puerto Rico with the likes of Juan Gonzalez, Carlos Beltran and Roberto Alomar, so he reported to Viera in good shape. He’s only two years removed from a .343 batting average with Arizona and has developed from an everyday second baseman into a reliable pinch-hitter and clubhouse leader.

“That’s my role,” he said. “A lot of players, when they used to be starters, it’s kind of tough for them to adjust roles. I’ve said when my time came up, I have to be prepared for this. That’s what I put my heart in.”

Gibson takes a swing

“Good Morning America” host Charlie Gibson was in town and in uniform, working out with the Nationals for a segment that will air tomorrow.

The 61-year-old newsman grew up in Washington as a Senators fan, played high school baseball and has long pined for the day when he could wear a major league uniform.

He finally got his chance, but don’t look for Bowden to come calling with a contract offer. Gibson, wearing a jersey with Robinson’s No. 20 on the back, managed to make consistent contact off spring instructor Jose Cardenal but got just two balls out of the infield.

He did show some versatility, though, batting right-handed while throwing left-handed. He also seemed to take to some of the coaching he received.

“I got more instruction in an hour here than I did in four years in high school,” Gibson said. “The coaching at this level in incredible.”

Gibson, who used to watch Senators games at Griffith Stadium and was at the final game at RFK Stadium in 1971, said he will be an avid Nationals fan.

“To have a ball team now, it just makes you smile,” he said. “I can’t wait until April 14 to come out to RFK [for the home opener]. It’ll be a real kick to have been at the last game in Washington and now the first game back.”

Extra bases

Reliever Francis Beltran was examined by Dr. Timothy Kremchek, the Nationals’ medical adviser, and concurred with an MRI that indicated a slight elbow sprain. On Kremchek’s advice, Beltran will rehab and rest his right arm for one week and then be re-evaluated. … The Nationals came to terms with pitcher Chad Cordero on a 2005 contract.

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