Monday, April 10, 2006

What an opening week to the season: A couple of wild games at Shea Stadium, featuring Alfonso Soriano’s benching for failing to run out a pop-up and then the beanball war between Pedro Martinez and Jose Guillen. Then Saturday night’s wild comeback in Houston, featuring huge hits by both Soriano and Jose Vidro.

And the Nationals haven’t even made it home to RFK yet. Lord knows what else could happen once Veep Cheney throws out the first pitch tomorrow afternoon.

In the meantime, let’s answer some interesting questions from readers. Remember, send your submissions to and check back on Mondays to see if your question was answered.

Q: Could you explain how many “options” a player has to go up and down from the major league club to the minors? This has never made sense to me, as some players seem to have more than others. Such as in the current situation where Jason Bergmann was immediately recalled to the Nationals when Pedro Astacio went on the DL. Does this mean the Nationals just wasted an option for him and put him closer to the waiver wire because they didn’t wait until the last possible moment to set the 25-man roster for Opening Day? — Jeffrey Saffelle

A: Great question, Jeffrey. This is one that is confusing even to longtime baseball writers, so I went to a true expert on the subject: Nationals assistant general manager and rules guru Tony Siegle.

Here’s how the options system works: Each player, once he signs a major league contract, is eligible to be optioned to the minors for three years. It doesn’t matter how many times a season he’s sent down and called back up, it counts only once. In a few extreme cases when a player reaches the majors quickly (like Chad Cordero and Ryan Zimmerman) the player gets a fourth option year.

Once optioned, a player is required to stay in the minors for at least 10 days … unless there’s an injury. That’s why Bergmann’s recall (to replace the injured Astacio) was no big deal.

Q: Given the recent “bad call” at the Nationals game in New York, do you think instant replay should be used in baseball? I understand MLB’s reluctance to “show up” the umpires when they make bad calls, but wouldn’t instant replay facilitate the basic goal for umpires: to get the call right? — Bill Engel

A: Yes, instant replay would perhaps help ensure correct calls on close plays at the plate or balls that carom off the top of the outfield fence, but I still don’t think it’s a good idea for baseball to use it.

For one thing, it slows down the pace of a game that can already drag along at a snail’s pace at times. For another, how would you decide which controversial plays are worthy of replay and which ones aren’t?

And lastly, the umpires are and have always been an integral part of the game. As long as they are trained and qualified to be in the major leagues, and as long as they give it their best effort and are willing to confer with each other to make sure they get the calls right for the most part, I think they deserve the right to officiate by themselves.

Q: Day 4 of the Nationals season. The Mets-Nats game is on ESPN. We live in Anne Arundel County. ESPN is showing ESPNEWS. We logged into the MLB.TV package that we paid $80 for. We get a message saying we’re blacked out. My mother-in-law in Ashtabula, Ohio, can see the game on ESPN, but we can’t watch our local team? Can’t the new owner fix this, whoever it is? Paul Schneider

A: I know this is incredibly frustrating for fans, but let’s set one thing straight: ESPN blackouts have nothing to do with the lack of an owner. Every team in baseball faces the same blackouts. If you live in New York and the Yankees are on ESPN some Wednesday night, it’s blacked out because the game is being shown locally on the Yankees’ YES Network.

Of course, a lot more people get YES in New York than get MASN in the Nationals’ TV market (which incredibly stretches all the way from Delaware to North Carolina). And therein lies the problem. All Nationals games may technically be available to local TV viewers, but that’s not really the case when MASN isn’t available on Comcast.

Now, could the new owner have some ability to rectify the situation? Possibly. Ultimately, though, this is a Comcast vs. MASN issue. And until those two companies settle this heated dispute, Nationals fans will be left in the dark.

Q: I noticed on the depth chart that the Nats have only four starting pitchers. Don’t they plan to go with a five-man rotation? Doesn’t that tend to help keep the pitchers fresh later in the season so they don’t fade … like last season? Marcus Dixon

A: The Nationals did open the season with a four-man rotation, Marcus, but that was only because they didn’t need the No. 5 starter until yesterday. So they kept an extra man in the bullpen for the first week of the season, then activated Ryan Drese off the DL before yesterday’s game and optioned (there’s that word again) Bergmann to Class AAA New Orleans.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To

submit a question, go to the Sports Page

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