Friday, March 24, 2006

VIERA, Fla. — The Washington Nationals weren’t helping out their pitchers in the field with 39 errors in 23 games, so Ramon Ortiz decided to help himself.

Ortiz allowed just five hits in six scoreless innings in a 1-0 victory yesterday against a decent Baltimore Orioles lineup. He threw only 62 pitches and wasn’t afraid to throw his slider on a full count.

Apparently, Ortiz always has liked facing the Orioles. In 10 career starts, the Orioles have hit just .236 against the right-hander.

“Everything is coming together,” Ortiz said. “I worked hard earlier in the season with pitching coach [Randy St. Claire] and [Jose] Rijo, and now everything is coming together: I’ve got my changeup, my fastball, my slider, my sinker. I threw on every count my changeup and slider.”

This was Ortiz’s second quality start and, perhaps more importantly, the first time Brian Schneider caught Ortiz. Schneider was with the U.S. team at the World Baseball Classic most of the month.

“It was the first time, and I got to see all his pitches and see what he’s comfortable with throwing in different situations and different counts to different hitters,” Schneider said. “I did it on purpose. I mixed up pitches. Sometimes he went into a situation with some changeups. The next time he went with some curveballs. It was good to get a feel for him.”

Roster moves

The Nationals made eight roster moves yesterday, most of them involving pitchers.

Right-handers Kyle Denney, Steve Watkins and Saul Rivera were reassigned to minor league camp. Left-handed starter Billy Traber was optioned to Class AAA New Orleans, and left-hander Valerio De Los Santos was released per his contract.

Denney, Watkins, Rivera and Traber all pitched well at times this spring. De Los Santos struggled, allowing 16 runs — 13 earned — in eight innings of relief. The Nationals probably will call up Denney, Watkins and Traber at some point this season.

Rivera, who allowed just three runs in 112/3 innings of relief this spring, pitched at Class AA Harrisburg last season, going 3-3 with a 2.47 ERA in 40 relief appearances, and may need some additional seasoning at New Orleans.

The Nationals also reassigned catcher Mike DiFelice and outfielders Kenny Kelly and George Lombard. These moves drop the training camp roster to 38 players nine days before Opening Day.

Leadoff situation

For now, Alfonso Soriano is leading off for the Nationals to give him more at-bats since he missed most of spring training at the World Baseball Classic with the Dominican team.

That won’t last. Soriano has way too much power.

“He’ll be down there [in the order] before we leave here,” Robinson said. “Right now, I just want to give him those extra at-bats.”

So that’s begs the question: Who is going to lead off this season for the Nationals? With shortstop Cristian Guzman likely opening the season on the disabled list, veteran shortstop Royce Clayton seemed a likely answer. Not so, says Robinson.

“Anybody can be the leadoff hitter if you put them up there, but no, I don’t see Royce as the leadoff,” Robinson said. “I would see Royce, if he’s going to hit in the top somewhere, as a number 2-type hitter.”

Outfielder Brandon Watson is the only true leadoff man on the roster, but he first must make the club in a crowded outfield. Robinson said he will try a few leadoff options this spring before he decides on a more permanent solution.

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