- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2006

MIAMI — The Washington Nationals designated Matt LeCroy for assignment yesterday, essentially ending the first baseman/catcher’s brief career with the team.

Needing to clear a roster spot so they can activate starter Tony Armas Jr. before last night’s game against the Florida Marlins, the Nationals chose to part ways with LeCroy, who had received only minimal playing time in recent weeks and didn’t figure into the franchise’s long-term plans.

“He had value to this ballclub, but we had people that had more of a use and we could get more use out of,” manager Frank Robinson said. “And that’s what it really came down to.”

Signed to a one-year, $850,000 contract over the winter after six seasons as a part-time designated hitter with the Minnesota Twins, LeCroy, 30, never really fit in as a National Leaguer. He played sparingly at first base as a backup to Nick Johnson and behind the plate when Brian Schneider was injured, but was 0-for-20 throwing out base stealers (including 0-for-7 during a memorable game against the Houston Astros on May 25).

At the plate, LeCroy never got into a groove, batting .239 with two homers and nine RBI in only 67 at-bats.

“I’ve been used to not playing throughout my career, but not this much,” he said. “I mean, I don’t even have 70 at-bats and it’s almost August, so that’s tough. But at the same time, I knew that coming in. When [Johnson and Schneider] are healthy, it’s tough to find at-bats. It’s one of those things that I knew coming in.”

LeCroy said he had a hunch this move might be coming after Washington made a flurry of moves to add position players during the All-Star break. He was on the team charter from Pittsburgh to Miami on Sunday night, then was informed of his status yesterday afternoon by Robinson.

“It’s tough to tell anybody about a move like this,” the manager said. “It makes it a little more difficult when you’re dealing with a person of LeCroy’s character.”

The Nationals have 10 days to either trade or release LeCroy. Robinson told him the team would make an effort to trade him to a contending American League team, and LeCroy expressed optimism that he wouldn’t be out of work long.

“I hope so,” he said. “You just never know. But hopefully some teams that are in contention will need a bat. Maybe I can help them out.”

Tigers talk Soriano

The Nationals have held trade discussions with the Detroit Tigers concerning slugger Alfonso Soriano, baseball sources said yesterday, and general manager Jim Bowden’s asking price was high.

Bowden wants three minor-leaguers in return for Soriano: right-hander Humberto Sanchez (considered the Tigers’ top pitching prospect), Class AA right-hander Jair Jurrjens and Class AAA outfielder Brent Clevlen.

Sanchez would be the key to the deal. The 23-year-old Dominican has excelled at Class AAA Toledo with a 5-2 record and tossed a perfect inning as the starting pitcher for the World team in last week’s All-Star Futures Game.

Several teams have talked to the Nationals about Soriano — who entered last night’s game with 29 homers, 59 RBI, 23 stolen bases and a .283 average — with the Tigers, Los Angeles Angels, Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees believed to be the strongest pursuers.

One sticking point to a deal before the July 31 trade deadline could be Soriano’s willingness to negotiate a contract extension with his new team in advance, per baseball’s rules.

Extra bases

Outfielder Austin Kearns, in a 1-for-12 slump since being acquired by the Nationals last week, was not in last night’s starting lineup. Robinson said he believes Kearns has been pressing at the plate trying to make a good impression, so he wanted to give the 26-year-old a day off to work in the batting cage and clear his head. Kearns admitted he might have been trying too hard the last few days.

“You try not to, but it’s very easy to do that,” he said. “And when you do that, it’s hard to have success. I think the biggest thing will be to just relax, take a deep breath and just play.” …

Left-hander Mike O’Connor will be recalled from Class AAA New Orleans tonight to start the second game of the series against the Marlins. Infielder Damian Jackson, who has missed four straight games with spasms in his esophagus, will be placed on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to July 8.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To submit a question, go to the Sports Page

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