- The Washington Times - Friday, October 6, 2006

The Washington Nationals are expected to begin interviewing for their open managerial position next week, baseball sources said.

General manager Jim Bowden and team president Stan Kasten have been putting together a list of candidates since Monday. Neither will reveal who is being interviewed or when the talks will take place, but a number of possibilities are beginning to emerge.

Former Yankees, Reds, Mariners and Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella and former Marlins manager Joe Girardi are believed to be the team’s top choices, with former Giants and Cubs manager Dusty Baker and Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton also among those who have had contact with the Nationals.

Other potential candidates include Mets coaches Manny Acta and Jerry Manuel, but Piniella and Girardi have risen to the top of the pack, according to sources familiar with the Nationals’ search to replace fired manager Frank Robinson.

Washington could find it difficult to lure either high-profile choice to town. Piniella, who has a longstanding relationship with Bowden from the duo’s days in Cincinnati, is also a candidate with the Cubs and could be sought by the Giants and Rangers as well. The 63-year-old, who is doing postseason television work for Fox, also won’t come cheap: He could command upwards of $4 million a year.

Girardi, 41, won’t cost nearly as much because he has only one season of managerial experience. But the former Cubs catcher and Illinois native appears to be the clear frontrunner for the Chicago job and has publicly lobbied for it in recent days.

When reached yesterday, Kasten referred all questions to Bowden, who did not return messages and has not spoken publicly since Saturday.

Casto, Zinicola win honors

The Nationals named outfielder Kory Casto and reliever Zechry Zinicola as the organization’s player and pitcher of the year.

Casto earned the farm system’s top honor for the second straight season after hitting .272 with 20 homers and 80 RBI in 140 games for Class AA Harrisburg. The organization’s third-round pick in the 2003 draft was a mid-season and year-end Eastern League All-Star and could get a shot to win the Nationals’ starting left field job next spring if free agent Alfonso Soriano departs.

Zinicola, a sixth-round draft choice this summer out of Arizona State, shot through Washington’s farm system while making a name for himself. The 21-year-old right-hander was a combined 4-1 with a 1.65 ERA and 12 saves in 27 games between short-season Class A Vermont, Class A Potomac and Harrisburg.

That Zinicola has already earned such an honor speaks to his meteoric rise through the organization, but it also underscores the lack of top-notch pitching talent in the Nationals’ system.

Four players outrighted

Reliever Roy Corcoran, outfielder George Lombard and infielders Melvin Dorta and Henry Mateo were all outrighted to Class AAA in moves designed to clear space on the Nationals’ 40-man roster.

Washington reinstated right-handers John Patterson and Shawn Hill, left-hander Micah Bowie and outfielder Alex Escobar from the 15-day disabled list.

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