- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 22, 2005

Hector Carrasco, a relief pitcher for all but one appearance over the first nine years of his major league career, will close out the season as a starter for the Washington Nationals.

And if Carrasco has anything to say about it, he will remain in the Nationals’ rotation come 2006.

“Yeah, I want to be a starter next year,” he said yesterday on the eve of his third start with Washington. “You never know, but I’m ready to be a starter. I like it.”

Thrust into the rotation out of pure desperation after 59 relief appearances, Carrasco has done nothing so far to suggest he couldn’t make a permanent transformation. He gave up two runs over four innings in his first start Sept.13 in New York, then tossed six shutout innings four nights later in San Diego.

The 35-year-old right-hander, whose ERA now stands at 2.01, hasn’t brought up the possibility with Nationals manager Frank Robinson or pitching coach Randy St. Claire yet. Some club officials are skeptical whether he could be an effective starter over the long haul and wonder whether he’s more valuable to the club as a reliever.

There’s also the matter of Carrasco’s contract, which is to say he doesn’t have one beyond 2005. Signed by general manager Jim Bowden last winter as a minor league free agent, he opened the season at Class AAA New Orleans before getting called up April 19.

He has spent the last five months with the Nationals making the major league minimum, and as a free agent this offseason he could be in line for a significant raise.

Carrasco, though, said his first choice would be to re-sign with Washington, no matter what role the club has in mind for him.

“I like it here,” he said. “I like to play in Washington. There’s a lot of good people here. Jim Bowden has done a great job for the team. He’s the one who brought me over here, and I appreciate that.”

Ayala ready to go

Reliever Luis Ayala, out since Sept. 1 with a bone spur in his right elbow, has been pronounced ready to pitch again.

Once among the league leaders in appearances, Ayala had started becoming less effective and was shut down after the injury was discovered. There’s still a chance he will need surgery this winter to have the spur removed, but Ayala wanted to come back to pitch before the season ended.

“I want to come back because [with the team] four or five games out, you never know what’ll happen,” he said. “I want to come back, try to throw my pitches in good locations and try to help the team.”

That said, the Nationals will be cautious with Ayala over the season’s final two weeks, not wanting to take any chances of further injury.

“The bone spur is right there,” he said. “I can’t say I’m 200 percent right now. But I want to pitch.”

Nats pass 2.5 million

With last night’s game, the Nationals surpassed the 2.5 million mark in attendance, one of the club’s modest preseason goals.

They now appear likely to surpass 2.7 million before the season is over. With seven home games remaining at RFK Stadium, they would need to average only slightly more than 28,000 fans a game to reach that mark.

Extra bases

The Nationals set their rotation for the weekend against the Mets. Esteban Loaiza will start tomorrow’s opener on regular rest. Livan Hernandez and John Patterson will follow, each on three days’ rest. …

Catcher Brian Schneider left last night’s game following the sixth inning with a sore right shoulder, the same ailment that left him out of the starting lineup for six straight games last week. He was replaced by backup Gary Bennett.

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