- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2007

VIERA, Fla. — Needing an impressive showing last night to keep himself in the running for a spot in the Washington Nationals’ rotation, Tim Redding instead came out flat. In the process, he left himself at the mercy of the club to decide whether he deserves one more shot or a one-way ticket to Columbus.

Redding gave up three runs and six hits in three innings against the Atlanta Braves, and though he avoided major damage after a rough start, it still might have been enough to knock him out of the rotation battle.

“I can’t worry about whether or not three runs in three innings is going to end my competition,” he said. “It’s going to take more than one great outing. I just need to keep throwing the ball to the best of my ability and show them that I’m capable of getting guys out.”

Redding, who came to camp as a legitimate contender for the No. 2 spot behind John Patterson, walked the game’s first hitter, then surrendered an RBI double to Jeff Francouer and a two-run homer to Andruw Jones.

“Unfortunately, the first inning was obviously a very big disaster,” he said.

Redding’s ERA in four spring outings (two starts) is 11.42. He’s surrendered 16 hits and seven walks in 82/3 innings.

If Redding is removed from the rotation race, manager Manny Acta will choose between Jerome Williams (who starts tonight against the Houston Astros) and Joel Hanrahan (who will pitch in relief tomorrow against the Detroit Tigers) for the final spot.

Acta did say he’s willing to wait until the final weekend before Opening Day to make the decision, particularly with projected No. 3 starter Jason Simontacchi still hampered by a strained groin.

“With the injury of Jason, we’re probably going to have to go longer with this thing,” Acta said. “But [Redding] didn’t help himself.”

Four cut, two added

Following last night’s game, the Nationals purchased the contracts of Robert Fick and Ronnie Belliard while removing four players from their spring training roster: left-hander Billy Traber, right-hander Josh Hall, outfielder Michael Restovich and infielder Bernie Castro.

Fick and Belliard had been signed to minor league contracts but now have been added to the 40-man roster and will become two key players on the club’s bench.

Traber, who was optioned to Class AAA Columbus, will pitch out of the bullpen with an eye on returning to Washington. His departure secures major league jobs for lefties Ray King and Micah Bowie.

Restovich and Castro were both out of options and were outrighted to Columbus. They are allowed to decline the assignment, but both are expected to accept it.

Hall was reassigned to the minor league camp and is expected to open the season in Columbus’ starting rotation.

Injury updates

Simontacchi, who hasn’t pitched since March 14, said his strained groin is feeling better but he doesn’t know yet whether he’ll be ready for Opening Day.

“There’s no doubt I want to be up there, but I don’t know right now,” the right-hander said. “It’s just a matter of being healthy, and when the leg feels good, we’ll go on with it.”

Meanwhile, Nick Johnson made a significant step yesterday in his return from a broken right leg. Johnson jogged around the warning track at Space Coast Stadium for the first time. There remains no timetable for the first baseman’s return. Few club officials expect it to be before the All-Star break.

Finally, catcher Brian Schneider sat out his fourth straight game with a strained hamstring but said he isn’t worried about the injury preventing him from being ready for Opening Day. Schneider plans to take batting practice today and start running tomorrow.

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