- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2006

VIERA, Fla. — With an uncertain starting rotation, the Washington Nationals signed veteran right-hander Pedro Astacio to a one-year, $700,000 guaranteed deal, plus incentives, pending a physical tomorrow.

The move was necessitated after the club learned Sunday that right-hander Brian Lawrence will be out for the season with a torn right rotator cuff.

Where Astacio slots into the rotation remains unclear, but he certainly will compete for one of the three available spots.

As part of the physical, the Nationals plan to give the 36-year-old an MRI on both his shoulder and elbow because of his history of injuries. In 2003, he had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. In 2001, inflammation in his right shoulder ended his season Aug. 23. In 2000, he had left knee surgery.

Nationals general manager Jim Bowden is not allowed to comment until Astacio completes his physical.

Astacio, a 14-year veteran, is 124-119 with a 4.61 ERA in 375 games with seven teams. The Nationals have wooed him all winter, especially after the way he pitched late last season for the San Diego Padres, helping them win the National League West.

In 12 games with the Padres, Astacio was 4-2 with a 3.17 ERA and was the club’s second-best starting pitcher down the stretch after ace Jake Peavy. In 10 starts for San Diego, Astacio allowed more than two earned runs just once.

Astacio’s best season was in 1999 with the Colorado Rockies when he went 17-11 with a 5.04 ERA in 232 innings. Last season Astacio was 6-10 with a 4.69 ERA in 22 starts with Texas and San Diego.

Ayala joins Classic

Setup man Luis Ayala is the latest Washington Nationals player to leave spring training for the World Baseball Classic.

After pondering his decision for about a week because of a sore right elbow, Ayala decided to play for Mexico. Ayala will report to Tucson, Ariz., on Thursday to join the Mexican team, which also features two former Nationals — third baseman Vinny Castilla and right-hander Esteban Loaiza.

“I talked to [manager Frank Robinson] and the GM [Jim Bowden] and told them I am going to play,” Ayala said.

Ayala, who underwent offseason elbow surgery to remove bone chips, has experienced tightness and soreness in his elbow all camp and was undecided about playing in the WBC for fear of a career-ending injury. Ayala threw for about 10 minutes yesterday in the bullpen and said his elbow felt good.

Ayala is the sixth Nationals player committed to play in the inaugural 16-team tournament. He joins pitchers Tony Armas Jr. (Venezuela) and Chad Cordero (United States), catchers Brian Schneider (United States) and Alberto Castillo (Dominican Republic) and second baseman/outfielder Alfonso Soriano (Dominican Republic). Catcher Mike DiFelice, a non-roster spring training invitee, withdrew from the Italian team last week. Wiki Gonzalez (Venezuela), a non-roster invitee for the Nationals, also is participating.

Excused from camp

Outfielder Christian Guerrero, the cousin of Los Angeles Angels superstar Vladimir Guerrero, and Gonzalez were given permission to leave camp for family reasons.

Gonzalez left to be with his wife, who is expecting a baby in San Diego. Guerrero returned to the Dominican Republic after three family members were killed Sunday in a car accident. Both are non-roster invitees to spring training.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To submit a question, go to the https://www.washingtontimes.com/sports>Sports Page

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