- The Washington Times - Friday, March 11, 2005

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — Washington Nationals pitcher Tomo Ohka turned in a nearly flawless performance against the Cleveland Indians in his first official spring appearance yesterday at Chain of Lakes Park.

Ohka pitched three scoreless innings and retired the first six batters he faced before allowing a line-drive single to left by Jose Hernandez in the Nationals’ 3-1 loss. Ohka threw 46 pitches, walked none and struck out three in the split-squad game. Thirty-one of Ohka’s 46 pitches were strikes.

“I threw a lot of strikes, kept the ball down and got of ground balls,” Ohka said.

Ohka, 28, pitched three innings in an intrasquad game last Friday and allowed one run on four hits.

The Nationals are projecting Ohka as the No. 4 starter behind ace Livan Hernandez, Tony Armas Jr. and Esteban Loaiza. Ohka is coming off a freak injury last season that forced him to miss 85 games — approximately 17 starts — when a line drive by Kansas City’s Carlos Beltran broke his right forearm June 10.

At the time of his injury, Ohka ranked among National League leaders with only two walks per nine innings. Yesterday he again exhibited outstanding control.

“To me, he’s getting right on track to where he was before he got hurt, so it was nice to see,” Nationals pitching coach Randy St. Claire said. “He’s pounding the strike zone, he’s getting ahead of hitters, keeping the ball down, in and out, changing speeds. He looked very good.”

Fall guy

Nationals reliever Dan Smith had tough acts to follow. Smith, who entered the game in the eighth inning with Washington leading 1-0, surrendered a game-winning, two-run homer to Indians designated hitter Aaron Boone.

Ohka, Jon Rauch, Chad Cordero and Joe Horgan held the Indians scoreless. Smith took full responsibility for the loss.

“It was a sinker, 2-0 [pitch] and he was sitting fastball,” Smith said. “I don’t think it was necessarily a bad pitch. He’s a good hitter, and you can’t get behind hitters like that.”

Hernandez, Patterson strong

Ohka wasn’t the only pitcher to put in solid work yesterday. In Washington’s other split-squad game, a 5-3 loss to the Florida Marlins in Viera, ace Livan Hernandez allowed one earned run over five innings — the longest outing by a Nationals starter this spring.

Hernandez, who went three innings Saturday against the Baltimore Orioles, gave up four hits, walked none, threw 66 pitches and pronounced himself on track for Opening Day.

“[My pitch count] is going up and up and up,” he said. “You want to be ready for the first game. I never have a good spring. I come here for work and to prepare for the season.”

Right-hander John Patterson, who is still trying to make his case for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, gave up one run and two hits in two innings. Patterson struck out two, including Marlins No. 3 hitter Miguel Cabrera.

Extra bases

Right-hander Francis Beltran, who has a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, said he expects to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery after he sees orthopedic specialist James Andrews on Monday in Birmingham, Ala.

Beltran, acquired last summer from the Chicago Cubs with infielder Brendan Harris in the Orlando Cabrera trade, was fighting for a spot in Washington’s bullpen.

“You look at the type of arm this young man has, it would certainly help the ballclub if he’s healthy,” manager Frank Robinson said. “So it’s a disappointment.” …

Outfielder Terrmel Sledge, out three to five days with a sprained right (non-throwing) shoulder, said his injury was not a direct result of a diving attempt he made Tuesday against the Cardinals. “I did it a couple of days ago — I don’t know exactly when,” Sledge said. “I think it was swinging, but the dive didn’t help. I’ll be out a couple of days, no rush. Better now than during the season.”

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