- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 24, 2007

VIERA, Fla. — Washington Nationals right-hander Levale Speigner and catcher Jesus Flores have the added roster protection of a Rule 5 draft pick, but they won’t need it.

If Rule 5 players are not on a club’s 25-man roster or disabled list, they must be offered back to their previous clubs at half the $50,000 drafting price. But Speigner and Flores both have earned spots on the Nationals’ Opening Day roster with their stellar play.

This spring Speigner has not allowed a run in 112/3 innings, and Flores is hitting .500 in 20 at-bats.

“Speigner has made us keep him here the way he has pitched and shown us that he’s a legit, good arm that we can utilize,” Nationals manager Manny Acta said.

At the winter meetings in Orlando, Fla., in December, Nationals general manager Jim Bowden selected Flores from the New York Mets organization and Speigner from the Minnesota Twins.

While the 22-year-old Flores was going to make the Nationals’ roster as Brian Schneider’s backup regardless of his spring numbers, the 26-year-old Speigner merely was part of the wide-open competition for a job on the pitching staff.

“We’ve been practicing and doing the hard work to stay with the team,” Flores said. “[Speigner has] been pitching really good, and I’ve been hitting good, too.”

Flores was regarded as the Mets’ top catching prospect but was not protected on their 40-man roster. Though Flores has never played above Class A, his inexperience hasn’t shown this spring. Thursday night against the Houston Astros, Flores went 3-for-5 with a two-run homer, a double, two RBI and four runs scored.

“It’s the most opportunity that any team has given me,” said Flores, who led the Class A Florida State League with 21 home runs for Port St. Lucie last season. “I’ve improved a lot in my defense and hitting. We’ll see what happens now.”

Earlier in the week, Acta said Speigner makes hitters look uncomfortable at the plate and praised his curveball. Speigner believes being a Rule 5 selection has its positives and negatives.

“I try not to think about it too much and put too much stock into it just because I still have to go out and get outs just like everybody else has to,” Speigner said. “In some instances, it might put a little more pressure on me, but as much as I can, I try and focus on just going out and pitching well.”

The Nationals are looking at Speigner, primarily a reliever as a minor leaguer, as either a fifth starter or a long man out of the bullpen. He has pitched three or more scoreless innings three times in the Grapefruit League this spring.

“I get reminded [about the scoreless streak] around the clubhouse pretty frequently,” Speigner said. “The defense has played great behind me. The catchers have done a great job of calling the game from behind the plate. Things have worked out for me.”

Speigner split time last year between Class AA New Britain and Class AAA Rochester last year and went a combined 4-3 with a 3.57 ERA in 49 games, all in relief.

“I’m lucky enough that my arm will bounce back as a reliever, and I trust my stuff enough to be a starter,” Speigner said. “I’ve got four pitches that I trust. It’s a tough situation, but it’s also good for me because I’m able to do whatever role that I may be needed to do.”

Long ago, Speigner was told his best pitch is a strike. He downplayed the effectiveness of his curveball.

“It’s just like any other pitch. I’m trying to get contact out of it, and whatever happens, happens,” Speigner said. “I’m just trying to locate it, put it in a good spot and have hitters do what they do.”

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