- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 19, 2006

VIERA, Fla. — They’re behind and they know it, but it was an experience they’ll never forget.

Closer Chad Cordero and catcher Brian Schneider returned to Nationals camp yesterday and reflected on the past two weeks playing for Team USA in the inaugural World Baseball Classic.

“I had an absolute blast,” Schneider said. “We didn’t go there and accomplish what we wanted to get accomplished and win it, but I took a great experience from all my teammates and I got to meet a lot of people. I heard a lot of guys say the atmosphere was playoff, World Series-esque, pitch to pitch, out by out.”

Cordero, Schneider and reliever Gary Majewski of the Nationals all played for Team USA. Majewski arrived in Florida last night and is expected back in camp today. Cordero, who led Major League Baseball with 47 saves last season, didn’t waste any time getting back into the swing of things, pitching a scoreless sixth inning in yesterday’s 10-2 win over the New York Mets.

Even though Cordero pitched just 11/3 innings in the tournament, the right-hander says he’s not that far behind.

“I’ll be right there, I’ve been throwing bullpens and everything,” Cordero said. “Maybe two or three outings and then I’ll be fine.”

Schneider needs to learn the team’s new pitchers, especially starters in Ramon Ortiz and Pedro Astacio, and get some at-bats.

“I have a lot of catching up to do,” Schneider said. “Here it is March 18th and I have six at-bats.”

The best so far

Right-hander Ramon Ortiz had his best outing of the spring yesterday. With a ERA at 12.38 entering yesterday’s game against the New York Mets, Ortiz allowed just two runs on four hits and one walk.

He didn’t help his cause in the first inning when he gave up a leadoff home run to Mets outfielder Lastings Milledge and then made two errors in the field — a fumbled grounder and botched pickoff throw to second. After his early problems, Ortiz didn’t allow another run.

Wiki on the warpath

Backup catcher Wiki Gonzalez is making a strong case for making the Nationals Opening Day roster. In his last two games, Gonzalez is 4-for-4 with three doubles and seven runs.

With yesterday’s 2-for-2 performance, Gonzalez has raised his batting average to a team-leading .444. Gonzalez is 8-for-18 at-bats with four doubles.

The battery

Staff ace Livan Hernandez and Schneider will not make today’s trip to Vero Beach, Fla., to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but will instead play in a minor league game at the Nationals spring training complex. Schneider will catch Hernandez, who is scheduled to throw somewhere between 75 and 85 pitches, and bat leadoff.

Extra bases

Mark Tuohey, chairman of D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission, gave a short video presentation in the clubhouse yesterday on the new baseball stadium. Tuohey was also looking for player feedback on things like locker sizes and other player amenities. … Infielder Marlon Anderson is out the next two to three days after accidentally slicing his left index finger yesterday morning cutting a grapefruit. The Nationals medical staff repaired Anderson’s cut and will re-evaluate him in two to three days. … Alfonso Soriano is not even playing second base for his own country. Yesterday in the World Baseball Classic’s semifinals, Dominican Republic manager Manny Acta benched Soriano in favor of Placido Polanco at second base. This is the second straight game Acta has benched Soriano for Polanco. Soriano has steadfastly refused to play left field for the Nationals this season, insisting that he is a second baseman.

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