- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2007

NORFOLK — Washington Nationals rookie Matt Chico admitted that he didn’t have his best stuff in his final exhibition outing of the spring.

Yet, without his best stuff — his curveball was betraying him — Chico still managed to last 52/3 innings, allowing four earned runs. By the time Chico’s fifth start was over, he said he felt confident in his abilities heading into the regular season.

“I feel pretty good,” Chico said. “I’ve got some innings under my belt in spring training. Overall, the experience I wanted to get during the spring as far as good and bad, I can take that into the season and hopefully I can eliminate most of the bad.”

Chico, who pitched at Class AA Harrisburg last season, is scheduled to start Wednesday’s game at RFK Stadium against the Florida Marlins. He will be matched up with pitcher Anibal Sanchez.

In six spring outings, Chico allowed 13 earned runs in 222/3 innings. In yesterday’s 6-5 loss to the Baltimore Orioles at Harbor Park, Chico retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced but then allowed two runs in the fourth inning, a solo home run to Corey Patterson in the fifth and another run in the sixth.

“I think he battled without his best stuff,” Nationals manager Manny Acta said. “I didn’t think he had that good stuff today and still was able to battle for 52/3 innings. I think the second time around the lineup, they were catching up to him. I give him credit, he battled without his best stuff.”

Chico allowed the four runs on four hits. He threw 77 pitches with 45 going for strikes. He also walked three batters and struck out one. This exhibition season, Chico walked nine batters and struck out 13.

Zimmerman comes home

The largest pre-game cheer yesterday at Harbor Park was reserved for Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman, who grew up 18 miles away in Virginia Beach, received a thunderous ovation from the capacity crowd.

Some of those people in the crowd were Zimmerman’s closest confidants. Zimmerman, who attended Virginia Beach’s Kellam High School about 20 minutes away, had a group of 60 friends and family members at yesterday’s game.

The group was also a fundraiser for the ziMS Foundation, which was established by Zimmerman following last season, and is dedicated to the treatment and cure of multiple sclerosis. Zimmerman’s mother, Cheryl, was diagnosed with MS in 1995.

“It was fun to kind of come home and see how far baseball has come in such a short time around here with David [Wright] and me, and B.J. [Upton] and even Jason [Dubois] on the other team,” Zimmerman said. “It’s fun to see and it’s kind of neat knowing that you were playing here when you were younger.”

Zimmerman, who finished second to Florida shortstop Hanley Ramirez in last year’s National League rookie of the year voting, didn’t disappoint his large following. Acting as the Nationals designated hitter, Zimmerman went 2-for-4 with a ground-rule double and a walk.

Extra bases

Robert Fick is expected to rejoin the Nationals today after spending the last two days with his ailing mother in California. …

RFK’s main ticket box office will have extended hours tomorrow for Opening Day ticket sales. RFK’s box office will stay open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Want more Nats? Check out Nats Home Plate.

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