- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 19, 2006

VIERA, Fla. — The Washington Nationals’ battered and overworked pitching staff should be fine by Opening Day.

That’s the word anyway from Nationals manager Frank Robinson.

With pitchers and catchers reporting to camp yesterday, Robinson said everyone from his injury-riddled pitching staff of a year ago has been cleared to throw. Tony Armas Jr., Ryan Drese, Livan Hernandez, Jon Rauch and Luis Ayala are coming off surgeries in the past year.

“Guys like Drese, Tony Armas, Livo, we will have to take it easy with them,” Robinson said. “We’re looking at them being ready for the season, all of those guys. There’s no reason why, unless they have some type of setback here in spring training, that they won’t be ready for the season.”

Drese and Armas are probably the biggest concerns. Both are battling for a spot in the Nationals’ starting rotation, and both are coming off surgeries on their throwing shoulders. Drese, who went 3-6 with a 4.98 ERA in 11 starts last season with the Nationals, underwent rotator cuff surgery in mid-September, while Armas underwent the second operation on his right shoulder in the past three years in late September.

“I want to be able to do the same thing as everybody,” Armas said of his plans for spring training. “I threw a little bit [27 innings] in winter ball, and everything felt fine.”

Ayala, 28, took the winter off and did not play in his native Mexico. Ayala, who sets up All-Star closer Chad Cordero, pitched just twice after Aug. 21 last season because of bone spurs in his right elbow and had elbow surgery in late October.

“[The team doctors] said rest for winter ball and be ready for spring training,” said Ayala, who went 8-7 last season with a 2.66 ERA. “I’m working out and expect to have a great season this year.”

Hernandez had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in October. Rauch had shoulder surgery in May and returned to the Nationals by September.

Late arrivals

Hernandez and newly acquired reliever Felix Rodriguez have been excused and will report to camp later in the week.

Hernandez, who lives in Miami, called team officials and said he is taking care of personal business and will report tomorrow. Meanwhile, Rodriguez, whom the Nationals signed as bullpen insurance this past offseason, is experiencing visa problems trying to get in from his native Dominican Republic and won’t arrive in camp until Wednesday.

Classic interference

The World Baseball Classic definitely interferes with Major League Baseball’s spring training. Robinson said he is not a big fan of the inaugural event — a tournament modeled after soccer’s World Cup that pits the world’s top 16 baseball-playing nations against each other.

Catcher Brian Schneider (United States), Cordero (United States), outfielder Alfonso Soriano (Dominican Republic) and Ayala (Mexico) have committed to their respective national teams. Second baseman Jose Vidro has been named to Puerto Rico’s preliminary roster and is awaiting word whether he’s on the final roster.

Robinson cited injury concerns and how the WBC, which runs March 3-20, disrupts spring training as the main reason why he’s against the tournament.

“I’m kind of selfish, and I’m a manager. I would like to have all my players right here for spring training for the entire spring,” Robinson said. “I’m concerned about all of them. [Brian] Schneider is out there. Ayala is talking about playing, [as is] Cordero. [Gary] Majewski is an alternate. I’m concerned about any of them that are going to participate. If they want to play in it, I’m not going to try and talk them out of it. I just wish they had a better way to do it.”

Katrina aftermath

The New Orleans Zephyrs are alive and well. Really.

According to general manager Jim Bowden, the Zephyrs’ complex was spared by Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed much of New Orleans and left the Gulf Coast region in shambles. The Nationals’ Class AAA affiliate is up and running and will have a team on the field this summer.

The Zephyrs “really escaped a lot of the hit; we’re scheduled to go on time and have no issues there,” Bowden said. “Andy Dunn, our farm director, flew down there for the last couple of weeks. There was a lot of damage done, but we feel we’ll be ready on Opening Day, and it won’t be delayed.”

Frank on Turin

Don’t think 70-year-old baseball managers just watch baseball. Robinson was appalled by American snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis’ showboating display that cost her the gold medal near the finish line Friday during snowboardcross at the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.

“It just goes to show you it ain’t over until it’s over,” Robinson said. “I don’t know the motions that she was trying to correct — body posture or something in the air — I thought she was hot-dogging myself. She was a little too premature, and she paid the price.”

Extra bases

The Nationals signed reliever Kevin Gryboski to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Gryboski, 32, went 1-1 with a 5.52 ERA in 42 games last season with the Atlanta Braves and Texas Rangers … Tickets go on sale Wednesday for the “Battle of the Beltway” — a two-game exhibition series against the Baltimore Orioles on March31 at RFK Stadium and April1 at Camden Yards. Fans can purchase tickets by calling 888/632-6287 or through www.nationals.com. RFK’s box office will open at 10 a.m. Wednesday to handle walk-up sales.

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