- The Washington Times - Friday, March 17, 2006

VIERA, Fla. — The numbers are there, but the jobs are not.

Despite how well some of the Washington Nationals pitchers perform during the spring, they probably are resigned to opening the season in the minors.

Three nonroster invitees — right-handers Kyle Denney, Steve Watkins and Saul Rivera — and left-handed starter Billy Traber, who is on the club’s 40-man roster, entered camp as long shots and have pitched well. However, the Nationals staff appears almost set for Opening Day.

Depending on how many pitchers the club carries at the start of the season — either 11 or 12 — there may not be any room for Denney, Watkins, Rivera or Traber.

After top starters Livan Hernandez and John Patterson, the rotation favorites appear to be Pedro Astacio, Tony Armas Jr. and Ramon Ortiz. A bullpen job may have opened up yesterday now that setup man Luis Ayala will have reconstructive surgery on his right elbow and could be out for the season. Still, veteran right-hander Felix Rodriguez is expected to make the staff with Gary Majewski moving into the eighth-inning role Ayala filled last year.

The rest of the bullpen likely will be filled by closer Chad Cordero, who led the majors with 47 saves last season, long man Jon Rauch and veteran left-handed specialists Joey Eischen and Mike Stanton. So the Nationals would need to keep a 12th pitcher for any of the surprising foursome to land a job.

“There’s a lot of guys [in the clubhouse] that have significant time, and [the Nationals already] were counting on them when they brought them in,” said Denney, who has 10 strikeouts in 12 innings this spring. “I think all us guys over here can do is basically turn as many heads as we can — pitch as well as we can when we get the opportunity. As a whole, I think we’ve done a pretty good job.”

Without question, the strength of the Nationals last season was their pitching staff, especially a bullpen that ranked third in the National League with a 3.55 ERA. The starters weren’t so bad either, ranking seventh in the league with a 4.03 ERA.

Denney’s ERA slipped to 10.50 yesterday when he gave up five runs in two innings to the Baltimore Orioles, but the other competitors for the staff’s possible 12th spot have sparkling numbers against major league teams. Watkins is 1-1 with a 1.38 ERA in 13 innings, Traber is 1-1 with a 1.50 ERA in 12 innings and Rivera is 0-1 with a 2.35 ERA in 72/3 innings.

“Last year, coming out of camp with Cleveland, it was kind of the same situation, and I just sat in [Class AAA] Buffalo the whole year and it just never happened for me,” Watkins said. “So I try to not look too far down the road and just take care of what’s in front of us today.”

Said Rivera, who went 3-3 with a 2.47 ERA in 40 relief appearances at Class AA Harrisburg last season: “I have to keep doing my job. That’s all I have to do. If I keep doing my job, maybe I can make them make a decision. I’m preparing to start the season anywhere.”

What Denney, Watkins, Rivera and Traber have done is position themselves for in-season call-ups. Because of injuries, the Nationals used 25 pitchers and 15 starters last season for manager Frank Robinson.

Majewski, Rauch and departed reliever Hector Carrasco opened last season at Class AAA New Orleans.

“I’m sure, like everybody else, I’m very confident in my ability to go up and help the team win,” Denney said. “If they don’t need me as a starter in Washington, then I’ll go to New Orleans and start there. Get built up and get ready to go.

“It’s not all about being good. You’ve got to be lucky, you’ve got to be in the right position, you’ve got to stay healthy, the whole thing.”

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

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide