- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2007

VIERA, Fla. — With a dozen pitchers vying for four open spots in the Washington Nationals’ rotation this spring, manager Manny Acta has to use some starters in relief roles to make sure everyone has his turn.

In yesterday’s intrasquad game, one of those temporary relievers, Jason Simontacchi, made his case to be a starter next time.

Simontacchi, a 33-year-old journeyman right-hander, came on in relief of starter Jerome Williams and retired all six batters he faced. The best part? He did it in 15 pitches.

“That’s him right there,” Acta said after the Nationals’ “home” team won 6-2 in 10 innings. “When he’s healthy and you put people behind him who can catch the ball, that’s him. You’re going to have to hit him, or he’s going to get you out.”

It was a nice debut for Simontacchi, who hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since injuring his shoulder in 2004.

“Is a first impression important? I guess you’d say, yeah,” he said. “But at the same time, even if I would have gone out there and didn’t do very well, I’d still know I had a whole month left to prove to these guys I can be consistent.”

Simontacchi’s predecessors on the mound yesterday (Williams and Tim Redding) weren’t as crisp but still were effective. Williams gave up three hits and walked a batter but didn’t allow a run in two innings. Redding gave up one run on three hits over his two innings, the big blow a Ryan Church double off the wall on a hanging curveball.

Acta and his coaches were less critical of performances in an intrasquad game than they will be for Grapefruit League games, which begin tomorrow, but Redding still took this seriously.

“I’m counting this as my first outing,” the 29-year-old right-hander said. “If it’s just a warmup and there’s no weight on it, so be it. But it gives me an idea what I need to work on.”

Guzman, Logan impress

Shortstop Cristian Guzman and center fielder Nook Logan had nice days at the plate. Guzman had two singles to improve to 3-for-5 in two intrasquad games, and Logan crushed a rare three-run homer to help lead the home team to victory.

“When you’re doing good, it gives you more confidence,” said Guzman, trying to put behind his atrocious 2005 and injury-plagued 2006 seasons. “I think that’s the reason I come here every day happy.”

Said Acta: “I think he swung the bat better these last two days than he did the whole first half [in 2005]. I know it’s only spring training, but it’s very encouraging, and I like his attitude.”

Logan struggled Tuesday, going 0-for-3. But he rebounded yesterday to hit a three-run homer off right-hander Anastacio Martinez and prompt hitting coach Mitchell Page to joke the slap-hitting center fielder is on his way to a 40-40 season.

“I think he was just kidding you,” Logan said. “It was just one swing.”

Extra bases

First baseman Travis Lee was unable to play in either intrasquad game because of a strained oblique muscle that prevents him from swinging a bat. Acta said the injury is not serious and Lee is expected back within a few days. …

Reliever Jesus Colome was sent home yesterday with flu-like symptoms. Colome already had missed a few days earlier in camp with an abscess on his buttocks. …

Tony Blanco, who spent the entire 2005 season on the Nationals’ roster as a Rule 5 draftee, hit an opposite-field homer in yesterday’s game. …

The game was extended to 10 innings because left-hander Arnie Munoz needed to get in work.

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