- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 21, 2006

VIERA, Fla. — Brian Lawrence, projected to be the Washington Nationals’ No. 3 starter, had to cut short his first bullpen session with the club Sunday and did not participate in drills yesterday after feeling stiffness in his right shoulder.

Lawrence said he does not believe the injury is serious and that the stiffness most likely was a result of inactivity during the offseason. He has never had any shoulder trouble before. In fact, his durability — he’s made at least 31 starts each of the last four seasons — was a major reason the Nationals acquired him for Vinny Castilla in November.

“It’s not a big deal,” he said, his shoulder wrapped in ice. “Just a little stiffness the first time out because I didn’t throw a ball all winter.”

Lawrence will attempt another bullpen session today but said he won’t try to push things if he doesn’t feel right.

The Nationals regard the 29-year-old right-hander as a likely No. 3 starter behind Livan Hernandez and John Patterson, though manager Frank Robinson said Sunday that none of the final three spots in the rotation is set. Also vying for jobs are right-handers Ramon Ortiz, Tony Armas Jr., Ryan Drese and Jon Rauch.

Ayala, Vidro WBC-bound?

General manager Jim Bowden said he appealed to Major League Baseball to allow reliever Luis Ayala and second baseman Jose Vidro to miss the World Baseball Classic because of injuries. MLB denied the request, so it appears both will be participating in the tournament as long as they want to.

The Nationals are concerned about both players’ health — Ayala had surgery to remove a bone spur in his throwing elbow this winter, and Vidro is rehabbing from two years of right knee injuries — and are reluctant to let them play in next month’s international event.

But with Ayala expected to be able to play this season, MLB denied the club’s request because, Bowden said, “we couldn’t prove medically that they weren’t able to play.”

Ayala said yesterday he wants to pitch for his native Mexico but won’t make a final decision until he sees how he feels after the first two weeks of camp.

“Right now I’m going to pitch,” he said.

Vidro, who is from Puerto Rico, has not arrived in camp and has yet to say whether he will play in the WBC. The Nationals may try to convince the veteran second baseman it’s not worth the risk.

“With his knee the last four years, we’d rather have him be injured in our house and not in somebody else’s,” Bowden said.

Extra bases

Neither Vidro nor Alfonso Soriano has told the club when he will be reporting to spring training. Position players are due in camp Thursday, but the players union collective bargaining agreement states they are not required to be present until Feb. 28. …

Kory Casto, the Nationals’ minor league player of the year in 2005, is being moved from third base to second base this season. With top rookie Ryan Zimmerman projected as the organization’s third baseman of the future, Casto figures to have a better chance of making it as a second baseman. He will open the season at Class AA Harrisburg, forming a double-play combination with shortstop Ian Desmond. …

Nonroster pitcher Andrew Good returned to practice, one day after tweaking his left ankle covering first base during a fielding drill.

Got a question about the Nats?

Mark Zuckerman has the answers. The Times’ beat reporter for the Nationals will respond to your questions on-line and in print each Monday, beginning Feb. 27. Send questions to Mark at natsmailbag [AT] washingtontimes.com

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