- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 2, 2005

VIERA, Fla. — Tony Armas Jr.’s first pitch with the Washington Nationals — an outside fastball to New York Mets leadoff hitter Jose Reyes — was notable only for historic reasons.

Armas’ two knee-buckling sliders later in the inning were far more memorable as far as the Nationals were concerned.

“As you can see, his slider’s real effective when it’s on,” catcher Brian Schneider said of Armas’ strikeout pitches to Kaz Matsui and Carlos Beltran.

The Nationals were plenty happy with Armas’ first start, a scoreless two-inning stint in Washington’s 5-3 exhibition win over the Mets yesterday.

The 26-year-old right-hander, attempting to prove he finally has recovered from shoulder surgery two years ago, threw 28 pitches without allowing a hit. He walked one batter but dazzled the crowd at Space Coast Stadium with his back-to-back strikeouts of Matsui and Beltran after opening the game with three straight balls.

“I was pretty anxious to be out there, and I started rushing it a little bit,” said Armas, who is scheduled to start the Nationals’ second game of the regular season. “I made some quality pitches. I’m happy with it.”

Armas’ replacement, rookie Mike Hinckley, didn’t fare as well. The left-hander, who is trying to make his case for a spot in the rotation, was tagged for two runs and three hits in two innings.

Strange day for Minaya

Omar Minaya was dealing with a wide range of emotions at the game. The former general manager of the Montreal Expos and new GM of the Mets wasn’t sure where his allegiance should be for the first meeting between the clubs.

Wearing a blue, throwback Montreal Royals cap to pay homage to Jackie Robinson’s 1946 season in the minor leagues, Minaya shook hands with and hugged plenty of his former players and co-workers.

“It’s a combination of happy and sad,” he said. “I’m happy for the players because of what’s transpired the last few years. I’m happy for the city of Washington. But I’m sad for the city of Montreal because there’s a lot of history there, and there’s a lot of great fans that are not going to have baseball.”

Minaya was lauded by many for assembling a competitive ballclub in Montreal under extremely difficult circumstances. And though he’s now running baseball operations for a rival club, it’s clear he still has an affinity for the Expos-turned-Nationals.

“I told some people in Washington that you guys are getting a team with a whole bunch of warriors,” Minaya said. “In [the National League East], if anybody thinks these guys are not going to be in the mix, they don’t know what kind of heart these guys have.”

Robinson applauds Montreal

Nationals manager Frank Robinson gave full support for the city of Montreal, which is experiencing its first season without major league baseball since 1968.

Robinson said he didn’t blame the fans for abandoning the Expos over the years given the way the club was run by previous owners. And he said he believes Montreal still could be a great baseball town if another team wanted to return.

“Montreal is a baseball market — I don’t have any doubts about that,” Robinson said. “It has a very rich tradition that goes back a long way. And I think under the right circumstances, it could support and would support a baseball team. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.”

Group tickets on sale

Group tickets for Nationals regular-season games will go on sale at 8:30 a.m. today, representing another hurdle for the relocated franchise.

Fans purchasing 25 or more tickets will be offered discounts for 60 of Washington’s 82 home games (including the April 3 exhibition against the Mets). Tickets for groups of 25 to 249 fans will be discounted $2 a ticket. Groups of 250 and more will be offered discounts of $5 a ticket.

Group tickets can be purchased by calling 202/675-6287. Individual-game tickets are expected to go on sale in the next week or two.

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