- The Washington Times - Monday, March 21, 2005

VIERA, Fla. — Zach Day has all but officially wrapped up the final spot in the Washington Nationals’ starting rotation.

The right-hander ensured as much with five shutout innings yesterday in the Nationals’ 1-0 exhibition win over the Florida Marlins. Day wasn’t as sharp as he was in his previous start, when he allowed one run in five innings to the Atlanta Braves, but he clearly was strong enough to warrant a place at the back end of Washington’s rotation.

“I’m not committed to anything,” manager Frank Robinson said. “But he’s not doing anything to take himself out of that spot. He’s pretty much set there as far as I’m concerned.”

Though it briefly appeared there would be a battle for the No. 5 job, it never really materialized. Day rebounded from a rough start with his back-to-back solid outings, and top challenger John Patterson was tagged for five runs in three innings in a split-squad game against the Houston Astros, then had his next scheduled appearance pushed back because of an injured hip flexor.

Day had been projected as the No. 5 starter from the first day of spring and was immediately put on a pitching schedule that has him on pace to make his season debut April 10 at Florida. Because of off-days earlier in the season, the Nationals will skip over Day’s spot in the rotation the first time around.

The right-hander didn’t seem preoccupied with his overall status yesterday as much as his strong progress over the course of the spring.

“I just want to get myself right,” he said. “I’m not worried about what anyone else does. I have faith in what I can do, and that’s really all I can control.”

Three more cut

The Nationals trimmed their roster to 35 players after optioning infielder Brendan Harris to Class AAA New Orleans and re-assigning infielder George Arias and right-hander Hector Carrasco to their minor league camp.

Robinson and general manager Jim Bowden must cut 10 more players over the next two weeks, and it appears they will face some difficult decisions.

Washington has 14 pitchers remaining in camp. The club likely will take 11 north, leaving right-handers Patterson, Jon Rauch, T.J. Tucker and Gary Majewski fighting for one available spot in the bullpen.

The Nationals have 21 position players left. The eight regulars, plus backups Gary Bennett, Wil Cordero, Jamey Carroll and Terrmel Sledge are all guaranteed jobs. Third-string catcher Keith Osik and 19-year-old shortstop Ian Desmond won’t be kept, leaving seven players fighting for two remaining spots on the bench: infielders Tony Blanco and Carlos Baerga and outfielders Ryan Church, J.J. Davis, Alex Escobar, Tyrell Godwin and Jeffrey Hammonds.

Davis is the front-runner for one of the spots, while Rule 5 pickup Blanco is making a strong case to be the 25th man on the Opening Day roster.

“It’s not easy to make these cuts,” Robinson said. “The next one’s going to be almost impossible. I feel like I have these guys’ lives in my hands. That’s what I agonize over.”

Extra bases

Center fielder Endy Chavez was a late scratch from the lineup with tendinitis in his left elbow. He will be given the next two days off, will be re-examined Thursday and could return to the lineup Friday against the Baltimore Orioles. …

An MRI taken on left-hander Mike Hinckley, who was optioned to Class AA Harrisburg last week, revealed a strained left shoulder. Hinckley will be shut down for two weeks, after which he is expected to resume throwing.

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