- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Washington Nationals designated relievers Levale Speigner and Winston Abreu for assignment yesterday before concluding their three-game series with the Detroit Tigers.

Speigner, a Rule 5 pick, is available on waivers to all other major league teams. He will maintain Rule 5 status if a team picks him up. If not, the Nationals must offer him back to the Minnesota Twins for $25,000, which was half of his original cost. If the Twins decline the offer, Speigner can be outrighted to one of the Nationals‘ minor league teams.

“It wasn’t easy, but we got to the conclusion that we could no longer hide him anymore,” Nationals manager Manny Acta said. “Looking at the future, we saw him more as a middle man. I thought we had some guys out there that could probably fill that role.”

The Nationals meant to use Speigner in relief, but Acta had to insert the 26-year-old into the starting rotation because of a depleted bullpen. He allowed 10 hits and seven runs in the Nationals” 7-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday — a microcosm of his six starts. Speigner went 2-3 in those games and finished with an 8.77 ERA in 19 games overall.

“It’s not an easy spot, but it’s a good spot to be in the big leagues,” Acta said. “You can’t just be and not be able to face hitters. Regardless of that situation, you do still have to perform and show what you can do.”

That hasn’t been the case for Washington’s other Rule 5 player, backup catcher Jesus Flores. He has been a pleasant surprise for the Nationals while showing an ability to block pitches and throw out runners.

“One”s better than none,” general manager Jim Bowden said of his Rule 5 players. “We gave Levale an opportunity. The results were what they were.”

Meanwhile, the Nationals recalled right-hander Luis Ayala from the 60-day disabled list. He had reconstructive surgery on his right elbow March 30, 2006, and recently completed rehab assignments with Class AAA Columbus and Class A Potomac.

Washington originally planned to recall Ayala tomorrow. But Bowden offered an obvious reason why the club changed the timing.

“I didn’t like last night’s game very much,” Bowden said of the Nationals” 15-1 loss to the Tigers on Tuesday. “[Recalling Ayala will] give the skipper some flexibility.”

The question remains whether Ayala is ready to pitch in consecutive games. He did it once for Columbus, and Acta thinks he is well prepared.

“They call me today, so I’m here,” Ayala said. “It’s not my decision. … If they’re ready, I’m ready. I’m happy to come back with my teammates, and I’m ready to play.”

Acta said he will use Ayala for limited innings momentarily. He posted a National League-leading 62 holds for the Expos/Nationals from 2003 to 2005 and became a reliable eighth-inning reliever.

The Nationals also recalled right-hander Chris Schroder from Columbus, where he was 2-2 with a 1.64 ERA and one save in 26 games. He pitched a scoreless seventh inning last night against Detroit, striking out one.

Extra bases

Right-handed starter Jerome Williams cleared waivers and was outrighted to Class AA Harrisburg. He has 72 hours to accept the assignment or become a free agent. He was 0-5 with a 7.20 ERA. …

Nationals right-hander Jason Bergmann threw four innings for Columbus yesterday in his second rehab assignment. He threw 58 pitches, 34 of them strikes, while allowing three hits and one run. Bergmann is slated to start Tuesday against the Atlanta Braves.

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