- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2007

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Of all the pitchers signed during the winter to compete for rotation spots, they were the closest to sure things. But as spring training for the Washington Nationals approaches the midway point, Jerome Williams and Tim Redding look like anything but sure things.

Front-runners to win jobs when camp started, the two right-handers hurt their respective chances yesterday during an unsightly 14-5 exhibition loss to the Atlanta Braves.

Williams started and gave up six runs (four earned) in just 11/3 innings, while Redding entered from the bullpen and put six of the first eight batters he faced on base (with three of them eventually scoring).

Combined with some shoddy defense and a lack of offense, the Nationals looked listless in falling to 1-4 in the Grapefruit League.

“It’s spring training. I’ve seen worse things than this,” rookie manager Manny Acta reminded. “Don’t forget, I spent most of my life in the minor leagues.”

If Williams and Redding don’t fix whatever’s wrong, they might find themselves in the minor leagues come Opening Day. Both were signed to major league contracts over the winter, but to date they have been outpitched by lesser-known candidates Matt Chico, Shawn Hill and Jason Simontacchi.

Williams’ outing yesterday was marred by a major defensive gaffe — shortstop D’Angelo Jimenez threw wild on what should have been a routine double play in the second inning — but the 25-year-old hurler didn’t respond well to the adversity. The next batter, Craig Wilson, hit a two-run double off the right-field wall, and Williams followed that with a walk, a fielder’s choice, an RBI single and another walk.

“You get that in your mind that you’ve got to do it, you got to do it,” Williams said. “The adrenaline gets flowing because you’re kind of upset at what just happened, and you want to try to correct it at that time and at that point. And sometimes you overdo it, and you overthrow it.”

Though the error made the big inning possible, Acta noted that the pitcher is responsible for getting out of the inning without suffering any more damage.

“That’s part of the game,” the manager said. “When guys make an error, it’s your job to pick up your defense and make pitches.”

Redding didn’t make nearly enough quality pitches during his two-thirds of an inning. Called upon out of the bullpen after Luis Martinez loaded the bases in the fourth, the 29-year-old watched as catcher Jesus Flores committed a passed ball on his first pitch, then walked the batter and plunked the next.

“I came in, [and] I didn’t throw strikes. I didn’t get ahead in the count,” he said. “When I did, I wound up walking guys instead of getting them out.”

Redding, who went 12-10 with a 3.40 ERA for Class AAA Charlotte last season, has been tinkering with his mechanics on the advice of Nationals pitching coach Randy St. Claire and admits he’s not yet comfortable on the mound. For now, he plans to continue with St. Claire’s plan even if it doesn’t produce the desired results.

“You look at my numbers from last year. Obviously I was doing something right,” Redding said. “But it’s a new organization, a new person, and he’s never seen me throw before. You can’t just sit there and say the guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He pitched in the big leagues for a number of years, and now he’s a big league pitching coach. He’s gotta know something.”

Time could be running out for both Redding and Williams to make Washington’s starting rotation. Acta said he plans to trim the list of contenders down from 12 to seven or eight by March 15, so both right-handers might have only one more game appearance each to turn things around.

Notes — Jimenez committed a second error yesterday, dropping a line drive hit right at him in the fourth inning, and has now committed four in only three exhibition games.

“I’ve just got to keep playing, working hard on my defense,” said Jimenez, who is trying to make the team as a utility infielder. “These things happen. The errors are going to come.” …

Catcher Brian Schneider will rejoin the club today and is expected to be in the starting lineup against the Braves in Viera. Schneider originally was supposed to play yesterday, but he was given permission to stay home another day to take care of his wife and the couple’s newborn daughter. …

Travis Lee homered in his first at-bat in a “B” game yesterday morning in Viera in the first baseman’s first action since straining his right oblique muscle a week ago. Lee could be in the Nationals’ lineup today. Cristian Guzman, serving as designated hitter, also homered.

Want more Nats? Check out Nats Home Plate.

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