- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 30, 2006

VERO BEACH, Fla. — One player who has no concerns about the Washington Nationals’ expected announcement of their 25-man roster today is backup first baseman Daryle Ward.

When the Nationals moved Ward to their 40-man roster Tuesday, it was a signal he had made the club’s Opening Day roster. Ward would have become a free agent yesterday if the Nationals had not made the move.

“They kind of came up and told me yesterday that I made the team, and that was a relief for me,” Ward said. “It was something that I was preparing for and worked hard for this spring. I really wanted to be part of the club. I didn’t want to deal with going anywhere else or anything like that. I like the team.”

The team likes Ward’s power. This spring, he has hit .273 with four home runs, seven RBI and a .568 slugging percentage in 44 at-bats.

“He’s been real impressive, obviously his bat,” Nationals general manager Jim Bowden said. “And one of the things we said in the offseason, we really struggled off the bench last year getting key hits pinch-hitting. It’s important, especially in the National League.”

Ward, 30, gives the Nationals a left-handed power hitter off the bench who can spell Nick Johnson at first base. Last season Ward hit .260 with 12 home runs and 63 RBI in 407 at-bats for Pittsburgh.

Though the Nationals are expected to announce their final roster today, more than 25 players will head north for games against the Baltimore Orioles tomorrow night at RFK Stadium and Saturday at Camden Yards.

“The exhibition games with the Orioles, there will obviously be some guys we want to get out of the games early,” Bowden said. “So we’ll definitely bring four to six [extra] players.”

The Nationals, who open the regular season Monday at the New York Mets, need to pare their roster from 29 players. Perhaps the biggest decision will be whether Wiki Gonzalez or Alberto Castillo will be the backup catcher.

Final tuneup

Nationals ace Livan Hernandez made his final spring start yesterday.

Hernandez, scheduled to start Monday’s opener, allowed just two runs (one earned) on seven hits in six innings. He walked two and struck out five.

“I was ready after my last start [Friday],” Hernandez said. “I’m not 100 percent; I’m 100 percent in my arm, but my knee is not perfect.

Zimmerman powers up

Rookie third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who has a team-high seven home runs this spring, may be developing power sooner than expected. He hit just seven in 704 at-bats in three years at Virginia.

“It’s funny, when we drafted him, we thought he’d be a 15 to 20 [home runs] early on and eventually be 25 to 30,” Bowden said. “And going on what you saw this spring, you thought he might be 30 to 40 in a normal ballpark. He’s had a great spring.”

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

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