- The Washington Times - Friday, March 31, 2006

VIERA — As players around him packed for the trip to Washington, D.C., Michael Tucker cleaned out his locker for an entirely different reason.

The veteran outfielder was among the four that didn’t survive Washington’s final roster moves, which preceded the Nationals’ 7-5 loss to the Atlanta Braves yesterday in its spring training finale at Space Coast Stadium.

The Nationals granted Tucker, who has played 11 seasons in the big leagues, his unconditional release.

Three others — catcher Alberto Castillo and relief pitchers Kevin Gryboski and Travis Hughes — were reassigned to minor league camp.

Hughes could have been picked up on waivers by another big-league club but that team would have had to add the right-hander to its 25-man roster.

Hughes stayed with the Nationals and will open the season at Class AAA New Orleans.

The final day of camp produced mixed emotions among the players and especially manager Frank Robinson.

“I feel like I have the individual’s future in the palm of my hand and I just don’t feel comfortable with that kind of power,” Robinson said. “It gets tougher every year.”

Continuing the theme that started when the Nationals settled on Brandon Watson as their starting center fielder over the more experienced Ryan Church, Robinson said the two remaining spots on Washington’s bench came down to which players had the better spring.

That is why first baseman Daryle Ward made the team over Tucker. Same goes for Wiki Gonzalez over Castillo.

There simply wasn’t enough room for Gryboski and Hughes in a crowded bullpen.

It is a near certainty that the three players sent down yesterday will be with the Nationals at some point in 2006, given how many injuries there are during the course of a season.

That didn’t make the final cut easy on those players or even experienced veterans such as starting catcher Brian Schneider.

“This is the hardest part of the game right here,” Schneider said. “It just stinks because you want everybody to make it and you know everybody can’t make it.”

Patience, please

It started as an answer to a question regarding the progress Alfonso Soriano has made in left field.

It turned into an impassioned plea for reporters and fans to have patience with Soriano, the second baseman-turned-left fielder.

“Every time a ball falls out there [writers] are going to say, ‘Well, so-and-so would have caught that ball,’ ” Robinson said. “The electronic media the same way. The fans the same way. Just judge Alfonso Soriano on his own merit, under the circumstances that this guy is learning. People have to understand this kid hasn’t played in left field.”

Soriano, who initially balked at moving to the outfield, has been working regularly with Jose Cardenal, a special advisor to Nationals general manager Jim Bowden.

Robinson said he is satisfied with the effort Soriano is giving in left field — both before and during games.

Armas not concerned

Tony Armas Jr. gave up five earned runs and seven hits in 42/3 innings, but the right-hander didn’t seem concerned about his outing against the Braves.

“I’m just happy everything feels good,” said Armas Jr., who is fifth in the starting rotation.

Since he won’t make his first start of the regular season until April 9 because of an early off day, Armas stayed in Viera. He said he will pitch in a minor league game Tuesday.

Injury update

Ryan Drese, who had surgery to fix a tear in his rotator cuff in September, pitched in a minor-league game Wednesday and will pitch in another one Monday in Viera. … Relief pitcher Luis Ayala had successful reconstructive elbow surgery yesterday in Los Angeles. Ayala, who is expected to miss the season, is scheduled to begin rehabilitation next week in Tempe, Ariz.

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