- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2006

Well, we’ve passed the halfway point of spring training — that’s right, exactly three weeks to Opening Day. And there has been no shortage of news down here in Florida. Nick Johnson just signed a three-year, $16.5 million contract extension. John Patterson already looks like he’s in midseason form. And, the Nationals are … well, let’s just say it’s a good thing the games don’t count in March.

With that, let’s move on to this week’s Nationals Mailbag.

Q: Last week you implied that the new owners for the Nationals would be named whenever the spirit moved the league. The league has suggested that an announcement would come soon. What is your best guess on the announcement date? — Larry Johnson

A: Yes, I was rather flippant with my answer last week, which I believe included a made-up month. In my defense, though, I wrote that before Major League Baseball formally approved the city council’s ballpark lease, paving the way for new ownership to be named.

So given that development, we probably can make a more calculated guess now. And if we are to believe Bud Selig (and really, when have we ever been able to do that?), then the magic date should be fast approaching. Let’s go out on a limb and say it happens before the end of April.

Of course, it takes some time for the new owner actually to assume control of the franchise. Chances are that won’t happen until midseason.

Q: Like many Washington fans, I’m impressed that the Nationals have seven players participating in the World Baseball Classic. But isn’t this having a negative effect on the team’s spring training? — Mark Davidson

A: Mark, you raise a good point. As nice as it is that the Nationals had seven players worthy of representing their countries in the WBC, it has had a significant impact back in Viera. For one thing, it has delayed the inevitable showdown between Alfonso Soriano and the club over the left field issue. It’s also prevented catcher Brian Schneider from getting to know new batterymates like Ramon Ortiz and Pedro Astacio.

But the biggest impact is on the pitching staff. Tony Armas Jr. needs to build up his arm strength after undergoing shoulder surgery, yet he has thrown only 16 pitches to date in the WBC. And none of the Nationals’ top three relievers (Chad Cordero, Luis Ayala and Gary Majewski) has gotten the kind of work they normally would get in spring training.

Will it make any difference? We won’t know until the season starts.

Q: Were the old Washington Senators nicknamed the Nationals in the 1950s? — Melvin James

A: Yes they were, Melvin. As a matter of fact, the name Washington Nationals dates as far back as 1875. And the team most remembered as the Senators officially was named the Nationals from 1905 to 1955. But because nearly everyone referred to it as Senators, the club formally changed its name before the 1956 season and kept the moniker until the day Bob Short moved the franchise to Texas.

Q: With all the woes surrounding the Nationals’ pitching depth for this year, it seems Billy Traber and Steve Watkins have been impressive so far this spring. Do these two have any chance of making the 25-man roster, or will they be sent to New Orleans and have to pitch their way back onto the major league squad? — Jeffrey Saffelle

A: The latter. You are correct, Jeffrey, in noting that both Traber and Watkins have pitched well this spring. But there simply aren’t going to be spots on the Opening Day roster for either of them, at least not unless there are a spate of injuries in the next few weeks.

That said, the Nationals will be keeping a close eye on both Traber and Watkins. Remember how many times they had to call up pitchers from New Orleans last year? It seemed like a daily occurrence at times. So while neither Traber nor Watkins figures to be in a Nationals uniform April 3, don’t be surprised if one or both are by May or June or July.

Before we wrap up, one final note. Many of you have written in to inquire (or in some cases, complain) about the Nationals’ haphazard television deal. Needless to say, it’s a mess again this year. There was some good news last week, though: Cox Cable, which services most of Fairfax County, has picked up MASN. So that really leaves Comcast as the last remaining holdout. Unfortunately, most people living in the Washington television market subscribe to Comcast.

Here’s what it all means: If you have Cox, RCN or Charter cable, DirecTV or Verizon’s FiOS service, you will have the ability to watch all 162 games this year. If you have Comcast, you will be able to watch only the 40 games slated for broadcast on Channel 20, ESPN and Fox.

And for those of you truly jinxed fans who live in Howard or Anne Arundel counties and don’t get Channel 20, you’re really out of luck.

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