- The Washington Times - Friday, March 23, 2007

VIERA, Fla. — Washington Nationals right-hander Jason Simontacchi believes he should be fine to open the season in the club’s rotation if he is able to make a fourth spring start sometime early next week.

There has been growing concern over the status of Simontacchi’s right groin, which he strained pushing off the pitching rubber March 14 against the St. Louis Cardinals in Jupiter, Fla. Simontacchi has missed a start and a bullpen session because of his injury but ruled out opening the season on the disabled list.

“If things keep going the way they have been, then I should be OK,” Simontacchi said. “I’ll throw sometime early next week and then go from there. As of right now, we’re not even looking at [the disabled list].”

Simontacchi nearly has earned one of the four vacant spots in the Nationals’ rotation. Nationals manager Manny Acta has Simontacchi penciled in as the club’s No. 3 starter behind right-handers John Patterson and Shawn Hill. Acta agrees with Simontacchi’s assessment of the situation.

“If he’s fine, yeah,” Acta said. “If he can make that [Grapefruit League] start and he can go out there and throw the amount of pitches we want him to throw effectively and he’s healthy, yeah, he’ll be fine. He’s very optimistic about it, but we want to see it because he hasn’t been able to throw a side yet.”

In three Grapefruit League starts over 12 innings, Simontacchi has allowed seven runs and 13 hits while striking out five batters and walking one.

Scary moment

Outfielder Chris Snelling was taken out of yesterday’s game as a precaution after a play at the plate in which he was pinned under Detroit Tigers catcher Steve Torrealba in the seventh inning.

Snelling limped off the field and was diagnosed with a left knee bruise and is listed as day-to-day. On the play, Snelling said he banged knees with Torrealba sliding into home plate. Acta immediately removed Snelling from the game.

“I feel good,” Snelling said. “Yeah, it’s fine.”

Given Snelling’s lengthy injury history to his left knee, the Nationals have to be cautious.

“I took him out of the game because it is spring training. We had extra guys there. [It was] precautionary stuff,” Acta said. “I think he’s going to be fine. It’s a day-to-day thing.”

Patterson confident

Even though home plate umpire Greg Gibson had a tight strike zone, Nationals No. 1 starter John Patterson was satisfied with his next-to-last tuneup before Opening Day.

In his third Grapefruit League start, Patterson allowed the Tigers one run on four hits while striking out two and walking three.

“I felt real good when I started,” Patterson said. “I ran out of gas a little bit in that last inning, but overall, that is what I was expecting going to do today. I made some really good pitches. I pitched inside very, very well. had good velocity, good life on the ball.

Patterson said he expects to throw around 100 pitches in his last Grapefruit League start but isn’t concerned with overworking himself.

“I’m working hard,” Patterson said. “I think my routine is a little bit different than what I would be doing during the season. It’s not necessarily pitching stamina. It’s just I’m working really hard right now. I’m throwing a whole, whole lot.”

Patterson has allowed five runs and 10 hits while striking out six batters and walking four in nine innings this spring.

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