- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2006

Boy, the fun never ends with this team, huh?

As if enough already hadn’t happened this spring, we had another one of those chaotic weeks. The new ballpark designs were revealed (to mixed reviews). Cristian Guzman found out he may need shoulder surgery and may miss a large chunk of the season. Prospective owner/club president Stan Kasten showed up in Viera, Fla. Luis Ayala blew out his elbow in the World Baseball Classic.

Oh yeah, and some guy named Soriano is about to return to camp.

Fortunately, we’re here to sort it all out for you in the Nationals Mailbag. Keep those questions coming and please remember to include your last name with your submissions. We can’t run them otherwise! …

Q: There were reports Mayor Williams was meeting with Bud Selig this weekend. Did they make any progress on the ownership issue? — Alan Hartwig

A: Not especially, Alan. The mayor sat with Selig during Saturday’s World Baseball Classic semifinals in San Diego and strongly encouraged the commissioner to name a new owner. But Selig never has been one to take orders. Rest assured he will make the announcement only when he’s good and ready to do it.

That said, without a doubt we are reaching the finish line of this exhausting marathon. With the WBC ending tonight, the ballpark approved, designed and ready to break ground and Opening Day fast approaching, look for Selig to name an owner within weeks.

Q: What is the status of Luis Ayala? He left the WBC game Thursday night apparently with an arm injury. Did he reinjure his elbow, or is there now another problem? He eats up too many relief innings with a low ERA to be lost. — Rick Bogdan

A: Ayala is lost for the year, perhaps longer, after an MRI revealed he has a sprained elbow ligament. He will undergo “Tommy John surgery” in the next two weeks and won’t pitch on a major league mound for at least 12 months.

And the Nationals aren’t happy about it. For those who haven’t been following this saga closely, here’s a quick recap:

• Ayala underwent surgery in October to remove a bone spur from his elbow.

• Ayala reported to spring training feeling good and poised to be healthy by Opening Day, but the club decided to bring him along slowly.

• The Nationals twice petitioned Major League Baseball to prevent Ayala from pitching for Mexico in the WBC, citing medical evidence that he was not ready for game competition.

• MLB denied both requests. Ayala insisted on participating in the tournament, then had to pull himself from the ninth inning of Thursday’s game against the United States because of elbow pain.

• The MRI revealed the ligament sprain, Ayala prepared for surgery and the Nationals’ front office blasted anyone and everyone in sight for allowing this to happen.

It’s a sad and ugly story, Rick, and it could have a lasting impact (both on the Nationals’ fortunes this season and on the way the WBC handles injured players in the future).

Q: Is Billy Traber for real, and is the Nationals’ brain trust paying attention? His name isn’t showing up on most reported short lists for starters, yet he has outperformed Pedro Astacio and Ramon Ortiz to date. — Larry Nelson

A: It’s hard to say whether Traber — a left-hander the Nationals quietly picked up in November off the scrap heap — is for real, but he certainly has impressed some this spring.

That said, it would take something dramatic (like another injury, or two) for Traber to wind up in Washington’s Opening Day rotation. While Astacio and Ortiz have looked underwhelming this spring, they are veterans with guaranteed contracts who can’t be optioned to the minors. So expect both to be there come April 3.

But also don’t be surprised if Traber winds up at RFK Stadium at some point this year. It’s rare all five of a club’s starting pitchers make it through a season in one piece, and Traber would be one of the organization’s first call-ups should it need an arm.

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