- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2006

JUPITER, Fla. — As he mopped his brow following a laborious, three-inning start yesterday in the warm Florida sun, Ramon Ortiz had some parting words for all those who might be concerned with his less-than-spectacular pitching performances.

“No worries,” the Washington Nationals right-hander said. “No worries.”

Ortiz, penciled in as the Nationals’ No. 3 starter, said this knowing he owns a 12.38 ERA in three spring-training starts. He knows he has given up 11 runs and 18 hits while walking seven in a total of eight innings to date. But he also knows he has three weeks to go before those numbers actually start counting.

“I don’t have to worry,” he said. “I don’t care about runs, base hits, whatever. I care about feeling good and being ready for the season. That’s it.”

Ortiz’s latest outing — he gave up three runs on six hits and three walks, throwing 64 pitches in just three innings against the Florida Marlins — wasn’t nearly as bad as his previous effort against the same opponent. That day in Viera, he was tagged for seven runs and nine hits in just two innings.

But the most troublesome aspect of Ortiz’s performance yesterday was the manner in which he regularly fell behind hitters early in the count. He attributed that to the difficulty he had throwing his slider and changeup for strikes. Ortiz has tried to refine both pitches this spring, but so far he has experienced mixed results.

“[The Nationals’ coaches] are working hard with me every day, working on my slider and my changeup,” he said. “It’s not easy. You have to take your time. I’ve got plenty of time.”

Neither manager Frank Robinson nor pitching coach Randy St. Claire seem overly worried at this point about Ortiz’s results.

“When he feels comfortable, then I think the results will be better for him,” St. Claire said. “It’ll be a few starts, and then hopefully he’ll take off with it.”

Errors continue

There have been no shortage of disturbing trends surrounding the Nationals this spring. With yesterday’s 5-2 loss to the Marlins, they fell to 2-10-1 in exhibition play. And they again looked sloppy in the field, committing three errors.

Washington has 16 errors in the last six days (seven games) and Robinson wonders whether it’s becoming contagious.

“It’s routine plays we’re fouling up,” the manager said. “And it’s just like anything else: It becomes habit-forming. We’re not playing good, crisp, sharp baseball in any aspect of the game right now. It’s going to have to pick up.”

J on Opening Day?

With Livan Hernandez still trying to work his way back from offseason knee surgery, the Nationals have discussed the possibility of bumping John Patterson up in the rotation to start on Opening Day.

However, Robinson said while there’s a contingency plan in place for that possibility, Hernandez almost certainly will take the mound April 3 against the New York Mets.

“The only way Patterson will be the Opening Day starter is if Livo feels he physically cannot go Opening Day,” Robinson said.

Hernandez, who threw three innings in his spring debut Thursday, is scheduled to make his next start tomorrow against the Marlins in Viera.

Extra bases

The Nationals have expressed a little concern that some of their pitchers in the World Baseball Classic aren’t getting enough work. Right-hander Tony Armas Jr., pitching for Venezuela, has appeared in just one game so far, throwing only 16 pitches. Reliever Luis Ayala of Mexico has thrown just six pitches. …

Washington likely will make another round of roster cuts later this week. With only one more day of split-squad games, the club doesn’t need 56 players in camp much longer.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To

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