- The Washington Times - Monday, March 28, 2005

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — The toughest cuts Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson and interim general manager Jim Bowden must make will come from the club’s bullpen.

Robinson plans to carry 11 pitchers on the Nationals’ 25-man Opening Day roster. Right now, the Nationals have 14.

“All 14 deserve to go north,” Bowden said. “Three can’t go north. All 14 should go north. I’m going to call the commissioner and see if we can expand the roster to 28. I don’t know if it’s going to work or not, but let’s give it a try. My divisions by revenue didn’t work. Maybe this will work.”

What happened in yesterday’s game — a 9-4 loss to the New York Mets — could have an effect on that. Tony Armas Jr., the Nationals’ projected No.2 starter, exited after the first inning with a right groin pull.

Armas will be evaluated today, and there’s a possibility he could open the season on the disabled list. However, Armas played down his injury, saying he took himself out of the game only as a precaution.

“I wanted to go out there again, but they said take it easy,” Armas said. “I threw a high fastball away to [Kazuo] Matsui, the one before I broke his bat. I felt a pain there. It’s not something. They just want me to take it easy.”

Armas, who was looking to pitch at least four innings for the first time this spring, said he plans to make his final Grapefruit League start, possibly Thursday against the Florida Marlins in Jupiter, Fla.

It won’t be up to him, however. Robinson is going to be cautious with his starting pitchers, especially with Armas. The right-hander had season-ending shoulder surgery May 23, 2003. Then, Armas missed the first 49 games of 2004 because he had not recovered fully. Armas went 2-4 with a 4.88 ERA in 16 starts last year with the Montreal Expos.

“I’m always concerned because groin injuries are very tricky. They may not seem like much initially, but they are very difficult to treat, and if you’re not very careful and get them 100 percent, they can go out on you again,” Robinson said. “Tony doesn’t control this. We have to make sure Tony is all right.”

If Armas’ injury is more serious than he believes, it might give John Patterson a shot at the rotation. Patterson pitched yesterday for the first time in 12 days because of a strained hip. The right-hander struck out eight Mets in three innings but also allowed four runs on seven hits.

“I came out of the game, and I was kind of like, ‘How did I throw the ball like that and give up four runs?’ You know, that’s kind of crazy. You won’t see too many lines like that,” Patterson said. “I threw the ball really well and ahead in the count. I was happy with the way I threw the ball today. There was nothing I would go out there and change. I made my pitches.”

Patterson, who has pitched just 11 innings this spring, said there is enough time left this spring for pitching coach Randy St. Claire to stretch him out and get his pitch count up if he must replace Armas in the rotation.

Robinson said there really isn’t anything more his relievers can do to make the club with a week remaining before the April 4 season opener in Philadelphia. Patterson, Jon Rauch, T.J. Tucker, Gary Majewski and southpaw Joe Horgan are battling for the final two bullpen spots.

“I think it’s almost out of their hands now, not what they are going to do or what they’re not going to do. It’s just a matter of making decisions,” Robinson said. “For the rest of the way, it’s not like someone can make this ballclub by something they can do from here out.

“I think it’s just a matter of keep monitoring the relievers and the people that are here and decide on what’s the best way to go for this organization and this team. A week from now it’s not going to change by their performances unless somebody or a couple of them just really falls apart. Then that may swing the ballots the other way.”

Note — Following the Nationals’ fourth straight loss, Robinson conducted a closed-door meeting in the clubhouse. When asked whether he yelled during the meeting, Robinson replied, “No, you would have heard me if I did.”

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