- The Washington Times - Friday, February 24, 2006

VIERA, Fla. — Luis Ayala’s surgically repaired right elbow is acting up, while Brian Lawrence’s right shoulder appears to be on the mend.

The Nationals shut down Ayala yesterday when their setup man complained of tightness in his right elbow. Ayala did not throw during his scheduled bullpen session and is unsure when he will throw in the bullpen next.

Ayala underwent offseason surgery to remove bone spurs in his throwing arm. He doesn’t believe the problem is anything serious, but says the tightness is coming from the ligament in his right elbow.

“I felt a little bit sore in my right elbow yesterday,” said Ayala, who went 8-7 with a 2.66 ERA last season. “My ligament is a little bit tight and sore. I talked to [pitching coach] Randy St. Claire and [trainer] Tim [Abraham] and explained the situation. I want to be relaxed and I don’t want to be forcing things right now and be ready for the season. I’m going to talk to Tim today and see what the plan is.”

Meanwhile, Lawrence felt pretty good and hinted he was going to play a round of golf yesterday. He says he carries a 1-handicap.

Lawrence has thrown little since Saturday, when he began complaining of a stiff shoulder. Lawrence, who was acquired from San Diego for Vinny Castilla, threw in the bullpen yesterday and was pleased with his results.

“[The arm is] almost normal. It’s definitely heading in the right direction; these last three days have been progressively better,” said Lawrence, who went 7-15 with a 4.83 ERA in 33 starts last season with the Padres. “I threw the full time, basically fastballs and changeups, and I located it pretty well too. I’m pretty confident. I feel like I had a little bit of life on it, too.”

Far apart

The Nationals and veteran right-hander Pedro Astacio remain far apart in contract negotiations. The Nationals have offered Astacio a non-guaranteed, minor league deal with an invitation to spring training.

“We’re negotiating with his agent, we’re still far apart,” Nationals general manager Jim Bowden said. “We’re going to continue negotiating.”

The Nationals and Padres appear to be the only clubs interested in the 36-year-old Astacio. He was 6-10 with a 4.69 ERA last season while playing for Texas and San Diego, but went 4-2 with a 3.17 ERA in 12 appearances after joining the Padres. The Rangers released Astacio in June after he was 2-8 with a 6.04 ERA in 12 outings.

Washington appears to have the upper hand in these negotiations. If Astacio re-signs with the Padres, he won’t be allowed to join them until May 1, because of Major League Baseball’s arbitration rules. If Astacio signs with the Nationals, he can join the club immediately.

Down the stretch last season, Astacio was perhaps the Padres’ second-best pitcher after ace Jake Peavy. Astacio, who is 124-119 with a 4.61 ERA in his 14-year career, held opponents to two earned runs or fewer in nine of his last 10 starts.

Lady luck

Gail Chandler can consider herself a lucky lady that she wasn’t seriously hurt yesterday. Chandler, who is the 71-year-old grandmother of promising left-hander Bill Bray, accidentally stepped into a 3-foot hole that houses outfield watering valves while videotaping her grandson during the morning long toss.

Apparently, the complex’s grounds crew had forgotten to place a cover on the hole because weeds had grown over the mouth hiding the depression. As Chandler was maneuvering outside field No. 3, her left leg fell into the camouflaged hole and her camcorder went flying.

Chandler suffered only minor cuts to her left shin and a little bruising. Chandler, who lives in Norfolk, insisted she was OK. Bray came over to the fence to make sure his grandmother wasn’t seriously hurt.

“I was looking out there to get a picture and I walked right in that hole,” Chandler said. “Poor Bill, I think I upset the practice.”

Seeing his grandmother inexplicably fall down outside the field where fans were milling about definitely rattled Bray.

“It was a scary feeling because you never like to see your family members fall,” Bray said. “For the first couple of minutes I was worried about her, because a lot of times [with] those injuries it takes a few minutes before they start to swell up. Once I realized that she was OK, I was able to get back on track.”

Almost here

All but two of the 68 players on the Nationals’ spring-training roster reported yesterday. Minor league outfielder Frank Diaz was due to arrive from Venezuela last night, while veteran reliever Felix Rodriguez finally secured his visa from the Dominican Republic yesterday and is scheduled to arrive in Viera today.

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