- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 30, 2005

VIERA, Fla. — The Washington Nationals’ pitching staff is complete after the club optioned right-handers Gary Majewski and Jon Rauch to Class AAA New Orleans yesterday.

The Nationals now have 11 pitchers, the number with which manager Frank Robinson wants to open the season.

Six days before the season opener, the Nationals feature an all-right-handed rotation of Livan Hernandez, Esteban Loaiza, Tomo Ohka, Zach Day and John Patterson; and a bullpen of left-handers Joe Horgan and Joey Eischen and right-handers Antonio Osuna, T.J. Tucker, Luis Ayala and Chad Cordero.

The closer’s role is by committee, with Cordero expected to get the most chances.

“The pitching staff has taken shape itself by the numbers,” Robinson said. “I feel good about the group. I feel good about Rauch and Majewski. I told them they did nothing wrong here, they belong on the ballclub, but we’re taking 11, and they are 12 and 13.”

The main reason Majewski and Rauch were sent down is because both have minor league options remaining in their contracts. The Nationals can keep both pitchers without exposing them to waivers.

“The one thing that works against them is that they have options,” Robinson said. “That’s what happened with them. Other than that, they would have been on the ballclub. They did nothing wrong.”

Rauch declined to comment, but Majewski realized it was primarily a business decision. Majewski said it is important to maintain a positive attitude rather than thinking, “Well, I don’t think I deserve to be [in the minors], and the next thing you know, you start [messing] up and you don’t throw strikes and you’re inconsistent.”

Relievers like Horgan and Tucker, who were battling for roster spots, can relax now.

“It takes a lot of pressure off the guys who might have been on the bubble to come out in the last week of spring training and pitch the way they know how to pitch and give them confidence that they made the team,” catcher Brian Schneider said.

Said interim general manager Jim Bowden: “We need Gary Majewski and Jon Rauch this year to help us. You don’t go with an 11-man staff; you go with 20 during a course of a year. We’re going to need them. It’s not going to be long before they are back up here.”

Castilla’s minor outing

Third baseman Vinny Castilla faced live pitching for the first time in 11 days and was 1-for-5 with a sacrifice fly and double in a minor league game.

Castilla, who hyperextended his left knee chasing a foul pop March 18 in a game against the New York Mets, will hit in another minor league game today and is expected to return to the Nationals’ lineup for tomorrow’s game against the Florida Marlins in Jupiter, Fla.

“I feel good, no pain,” Castilla said. “I’m going to do this tomorrow, and then I go with the big boys. In my first at-bat, I hit the ball good over there. The wind got me, though — [the sacrifice fly] would have been out.”

Castilla, who has been taking grounders for the past five days at Space Coast Stadium, might have to open the season on the disabled list. If he’s healthy by then, the Nationals will have to make a roster decision, most likely between Tony Blanco and Carlos Baerga, both of whom have played third base this spring.

The Nationals’ roster stands at 26 players — one above the MLB limit. If Castilla opens the season on the DL, Blanco and Baerga likely both would be on the Opening Day roster.

Robinson said all 26 players might go to the District for Sunday’s exhibition finale against the Mets at RFK Stadium, with the final cut coming in time for Monday’s opener at the Philadelphia Phillies.

Armas upset

Right-hander Tony Armas Jr., placed on the 15-day disabled list Monday with a pulled right groin, expressed his disappointment at not being able to open the season on the active roster.

“I don’t want to go on the DL,” Armas said. “I have to look at the positive, and it was an injury that you can never know what happens with it. If it gets worse, you can miss two or three months. Thank God my arm is good.”

Armas, who was projected as the Nationals’ No. 2 starter, injured himself Sunday in the first inning against the Mets.

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