- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 17, 2007

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VIERA, Fla. — By his own admission, Luis Ayala hadn’t thrown off a pitching mound “in a long time,” not since he blew out his right elbow at the World Baseball Classic last March. So although Ayala’s five-minute bullpen session yesterday morning normally wouldn’t be cause for much attention, this event was watched by plenty of onlookers.

“I feel good,” the Washington Nationals reliever said afterward. “I threw good pitches and good locations. I felt extension in my arm.”

Ayala was the Nationals’ top setup man for two seasons before tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow, and his return to the bullpen is much anticipated.

It’s also being closely monitored by members of the Washington coaching and medical staffs because recovery from Tommy John surgery never is a simple proposition. Pitchers typically need 12 to 18 months just to get back on the mound and up to two years to regain their lost form. Ayala hasn’t even been out a year, so the Nationals are being extra cautious.

Pitching coach Randy St. Claire wouldn’t let the 29-year-old go the full eight minutes in his bullpen session yesterday, cutting him off after five. That was fine with Ayala, who understands he has to take things slow and is anxious to see how he responds to yesterday’s throwing session after a good night’s sleep.

“I want to know how my arm will feel tomorrow,” he said.

No deal for Cordero

Chad Cordero and the Nationals couldn’t agree on a contract during a meeting Thursday night, and the 24-year-old closer appears headed for arbitration next week in Arizona.

General manager Jim Bowden has offered Cordero a two-year deal but not on terms that satisfy the young reliever and his agent, Larry Reynolds. Cordero is seeking $4.15 million in his first season of arbitration, while the club is offering $3.65 million.

The owner of the franchise single-season saves record (47 in 2005) made only $525,000 last year but said he wants to ensure he gets market value and doesn’t set a bad precedent for future arbitration-eligible players.

“That’s all I want, something that’s fair,” Cordero said.

The two sides will continue to talk over the next few days, but if no deal is reached, they will fly to Arizona late Monday and present their respective cases to a three-member arbitration panel Tuesday.

Acta throws BP

Some habits are just too hard to give up. So Manny Acta, despite his promotion from coach to manager, couldn’t help but throw some batting practice during yesterday’s workout.

Acta threw to outfielders Ryan Church, Chris Snelling and Kory Casto and seemed to have plenty of fun doing it. He also was pretty effective, garnering praise from his players.

“He was right down the freakin’ pipe,” Church said. “He’s still got it. … He’s always money.”

Extra bases

Along with first baseman Nick Johnson, outfielders Nook Logan, Alex Escobar and Michael Restovich arrived at camp yesterday. Position players aren’t required to report until tomorrow. …

Temperatures were in the low 50s with a strong wind yesterday, and with a similar forecast for today, the Nationals pushed back the start of their morning workout an hour.

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