- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 4, 2007

VIERA, Fla. — Plenty of attention has been heaped upon Matt Chico this spring. So far, it has been worth it.

The rookie left-hander dominated in his Grapefruit League debut yesterday, tossing three shutout innings of relief in the Washington Nationals’ 6-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Chico, 23, allowed one single, didn’t walk a batter and struck out two in authoring the best performance by a Nationals pitcher so far this spring.

“He threw the ball very well,” manager Manny Acta said. “He was able to locate his fastball, especially. And he didn’t show any fear, which is good.”

Chico, who has never pitched above Class AA, may not have shown any outward fear on the mound, but he admitted to experiencing some nerves when he came on in the fourth inning to replace starter Jason Simontacchi.

“Going out there for the first game, I got a little excited in the beginning,” he said. “I settled down towards the end and just had a lot of fun.”

Because this was a split-squad game, the Dodgers sent only a handful of regulars to Space Coast Stadium. Still, Acta said he was impressed with Chico’s performance. And given the way he has pitched this spring, the young lefty is beginning to convince club officials he could crack the Opening Day rotation.

“I felt like I made an impression,” he said. “It was really nice just to go out there with ease, and I felt real confident in all my pitches. It kind of made it a little more convincing to myself that I’m just here to have fun and compete for a job.”

No deal yet

Ryan Zimmerman and his agent met with general manager Jim Bowden and team president Stan Kasten for about an hour yesterday morning, but the two sides didn’t emerge with a signed contract.

Zimmerman, the only player on the Nationals’ 40-man roster still not under contract, said he expects something to be resolved in the next few days. The 22-year-old third baseman and the club are discussing a long-term extension that could lock him up into his free agency years.

If the two sides can’t come to terms, the Nationals can choose to renew Zimmerman’s contract for the 2007 season (in which case he likely would earn about $500,000).

“It was just a good talk,” Zimmerman said. “Nothing’s wrong. There’s no bad stuff going on. Just constructive talk, seeing where each of us stands, which was good. We’ll keep talking the next couple of days and see if we can get something done.”

Kasten declined to comment on the discussions.

Extra bases

First baseman Travis Lee, out for the last week with a strained oblique muscle, is expected to play in a game with the Nationals’ accelerated minor league program today. He could make his official spring training debut within a few days. …

Catcher Brian Schneider, whose wife Jordan gave birth to the couple’s first child Saturday, will be back in the lineup today against the Atlanta Braves in Lake Buena Vista. Right-hander Jerome Williams will start for Washington, with Tim Redding following out of the bullpen. …

Right-hander Colby Lewis has drawn the starting assignment for tomorrow’s game against the Braves in Viera.

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