- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 22, 2005

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — The Washington Nationals began to clear up their murky outfield situation yesterday, demoting veteran Jeffrey Hammonds and rookie Tyrell Godwin to leave three players (J.J. Davis, Alex Escobar and Ryan Church) fighting for the final spot on the Opening Day roster.

Hammonds, the former Baltimore Oriole who was trying to make the club this spring as a nonroster invitee, was re-assigned to the Nationals’ minor league camp. He is expected to report to Class AAA New Orleans.

Considered a long shot to make the team from the start, the 34-year-old Hammonds nevertheless thought he could provide a reliable bat and veteran leadership off the bench. Washington manager Frank Robinson gave the 1992 first-round draft pick a chance to play this spring, but Hammonds hit only .208 with one homer and four RBI in 14 games, finishing 5-for-24 at the plate.

Though injuries limited him to 96 games over the last three years with the Milwaukee Brewers and San Francisco Giants, Hammonds appeared to be in good shape this spring. Robinson said he wouldn’t hesitate to call the veteran up from New Orleans if he needs outfield help this season.

“He just didn’t stick his head up above the crowd here,” Robinson said. “But I told him we don’t want to lose him, so go down there, get some at-bats and you never know what’s going to happen.”

Godwin, 25, was one of Washington’s two Rule 5 acquisitions this winter. He had to be offered back to the Toronto Blue Jays and pass through waivers unclaimed before he could be outrighted to New Orleans. The Nationals wound up striking a deal with Toronto, sending minor league pitcher Aaron Wideman (the club’s 11th-round pick in 2003) to the Blue Jays in exchange for Godwin.

The speedy outfielder had hoped to make the major league club as a pinch-running specialist akin to veteran Dave Roberts. He did bat .318 and post a .400 on-base percentage in 10 games, but ultimately was caught in a numbers game.

“He needs to play and work on some things,” Robinson said. “But before the season’s over, we’re going to need help.”

Armas struggles

Tony Armas Jr. was roughed up a bit in yesterday’s 8-2 exhibition loss to the Houston Astros. The right-hander gave up four runs on six hits in just three innings, with all the scoring coming during a lengthy second inning.

“I didn’t have my slider,” said Armas, who surrendered four doubles and a triple before departing. “My fastball felt great. I just need another pitch to go along with it.”

Though Armas’ spring ERA has ballooned to 6.97, the Nationals aren’t overly concerned about his poor results. They’re more encouraged by the arm strength he has exhibited, proving he has fully healed from his shoulder injury.

“He’s throwing free and easy, which is good,” Robinson said. “You are looking for results now also. But the bottom line is keeping him healthy. That’s the main thing.”

Extra bases

Jose Vidro went 1-for-3 in his first road game of the spring. The second baseman was encouraged about making it through back-to-back games for the first time feeling good, and said he now wants to see how he does playing three straight days tomorrow through Saturday. …

Robinson said he hopes to have third baseman Vinny Castilla (hyperextended knee) back in the lineup tomorrow against the St. Louis Cardinals. Center fielder Endy Chavez (elbow tendinitis) remains day-to-day but could return this weekend. …

The Nationals enjoy their only day off of the spring today and have no organized workouts planned. Right-hander Esteban Loaiza will, however, pitch in a minor league game this morning to remain on his regular throwing schedule.

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