- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Ray King, in essence, has one job: Enter games in the late innings and get out left-handed batters. The veteran is a left-handed specialist - not the most glamorous of relief roles, but a necessary component of any good bullpen.

King has been traded six times in his career and leads baseball with 468 appearances in six years. He pitched in the 2004 World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals and gave up just one hit, walked one, and struck out one in 2 2/3 scoreless innings.

King talked with Ken Wright this week:

Q: You’re a left-handed specialist. What does that mean for those who don’t understand what a left-handed specialist is?

A: What it means to me is that you get the reputation of a guy that has pretty good stuff against top left-handed hitters in certain situations. You come in an inning, with one or two outs left and a lefty coming on with guys on base … and hopefully get that lefty out. A guy that can answer the bell pretty much almost every day because you try and minimize your pitches. One or two pitches - either the lefty should be on the bench or on base somewhere.

Q: Have you closed? Have you done it all in your pitching career?

A: No. I’ve never had a chance to close. There were a couple of times with Milwaukee I would go out in the eighth, get an out in the eighth, get an out in the ninth, and then here comes the guy that closes. I never got a chance to close. But I accept the role of a lefty to where, whenever the phone rings with a lefty coming up, I instill confidence and hopefully that call is for me.

Q: What do you think of this club? You signed with the Nationals in the offseason. Why did you decide to do that?

A: I looked around. First, you look at the talent level they have here. A lot of people are not giving these kids chances. But you look around the locker room, and you’ve got some guys that can play the game the right way. You look at [Ryan] Zimmerman, [Brian] Schneider behind the plate, who is pretty smart. You look at some of these young pitchers coming up to where they know how to pitch. Now, they have to learn how to pitch at this level. And then, with new management and new ownership and going into a new stadium, there’s a lot of positive going in this direction.

I had an opportunity to come over in a minor-league deal, and hopefully everything will work out where I can be here for a few years and not just one year. It all starts at the top. The owners come in and said they’re going to put some money into this team. Stan Kasten coming from a winning organization with Atlanta. Bringing in Manny [Acta], who had some success last year with the Mets and knows a lot of kids from his Expos days. And bringing the coaches in - Mitchell Page from St. Louis and Pat Corrales from Atlanta. So, the coaching staff has the knowledge, and Manny has to teach these young guys how to play the game. …

Q: How many pitches do you have, and what is your best pitch?

A: I’ve got a sinker, slider, and I’m working with a cutter this year. My best pitch has been my sinker. I love throwing sinkers in to lefties and away from righties. In this spring training, I really haven’t thrown it a lot, because I really don’t like throwing how I’m going to get you in the season during spring training.

Hopefully, during the last week, you’re really fine-tuning and start throwing it. But, like I said, I come in and challenge guys. I’m not a guy that goes out there and tries to trick you. Here it is - either you’re going to get me, or I’m going to get you.

Q: You’ve been around baseball a long time. What’s been your favorite memory so far?

A: I’d say my favorite memory is Day One when I got here. I appreciate the game for what it is. I love the game. It gives me an opportunity to do a lot of things for a lot of places in my life. You know, going to the playoffs in Atlanta, going to the World Series in St. Louis was great, but any day I can walk in and put on that uniform and play the game…

Best of all right now, I’ve got a 13-year-old son that plays the game, and I’ll be able to have him here with me. To spend that time with him on the baseball field doing what I love and something he loves to do, there’s nothing better than that.

Q: What position does your son play?

A: He’s a left-handed pitcher and first baseman.

Q: A left-handed pitcher? Boy, those are hard to find.

A: They are hard to find. Hopefully, he’ll stick to it and play the game the way I played it. But no matter what you do in this game, you’ve got to respect the game. If you don’t respect the game, the game will eat you alive.

Q: Many people just don’t realize how hard it is to reach this level. Just how tough it is to reach the majors?

A: It’s tough. You look at the draft, there’s 60 or 70 guys getting drafted. You’ve got rookie ball, Single-A, Double-A, Triple-A, and in today’s game, you’ve even got Four-A. It’s tough because a lot of guys - you get to minor league ball and everybody was a good high school player, everybody was a good college player, and now it takes the elite just to get to this level.

Sometimes you can get to this level quicker than you thought you would, but it’s tougher to stay here because the first year nobody knows you. You may be able to throw up unbelievable numbers, but in the second and third year, there’s so much videotape out there now to where you can be pitching today and they’re watching it on the other coast getting ready for you. It’s a game of adjustments, and I think the people that make adjustments stick around.

Q: What else would you like to accomplish in your baseball career? What haven’t you done?

A: I think the ultimate goal is actually putting on the final ring. I got close with St. Louis, but everything else has been accomplished. Knock on wood, I’ve been playing this game for seven years now, and I’ve got over 500 games pitched and never had any arm trouble.

Right now, I just want to be part of the game to where if I’m on this team, the younger guys can come and ask me questions and maybe help them become a better student of the game. I came up with Chicago [Cubs], and I had a lot of older guys. There’s not a lot of older guys here to where you can teach them the game and help them understand the game. So, my main goal right now, is to stay in this game as long as I can, but also not only to be a player but a teacher of the game.

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