Tuesday, May 8, 2007

MILWAUKEE — Considering how long he has waited to make it back to the major leagues, Jason Simontacchi was willing to wait through one more night. But make no mistake, the right-hander is eager to take the mound tonight for the Washington Nationals and make his first big league appearance in three years.

“It’s been a long road,” he said yesterday by phone.

Simontacchi is due to have his contract purchased by the Nationals in time to start against the Milwaukee Brewers. He has spent the last six weeks rehabbing from a strained groin muscle that prevented him from making Washington’s Opening Day roster but pronounced himself in good health yesterday and said he’s ready to go.

The 33-year-old, who was never placed on the disabled list because he has been on a minor league contract all along, made two starts for Class AAA Columbus and displayed the kind of precision control that has come to embody his career. He gave up 17 hits in a combined 102/3 innings but issued just one walk.

Simontacchi harbors no false impressions of his pitching ability. He knows he’s not going to blow any hitters away and that he’s going to allow the ball to be put into play.

“The defense needs to be ready to field the ball,” he said. “I definitely give my defense a chance to make plays.”

Simontacchi’s last major league appearance came in 2004 with the St. Louis Cardinals. Shoulder injuries sidetracked his career and forced him to make a long comeback throughout the independent Atlantic League and the Dominican Winter League before the Nationals offered him a minor league deal to come to spring training.

Because the 33-year-old technically hasn’t been placed on the organization’s major league roster yet, he was forced to watch last night’s game from a downtown Milwaukee sports bar. The club will have to make a corresponding roster move before tonight’s game to clear space for Simontacchi, but the victim won’t come off the pitching staff.

Manager Manny Acta said he would prefer to keep an eight-man bullpen for now, which means a position player will be dropped, most likely infielder Josh Wilson.

Wilson entered last night’s game with only one hit in 19 at-bats. He also has committed five errors, tops among major league shortstops, despite limited playing time in the field.

Scoreboard deal done

The Nationals and the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission reached a deal with Mitsubishi Electric and ANC Sports on a high-definition scoreboard for the team’s new ballpark.

The scoreboard will include a 47-foot-by-101-foot video screen, making it the second largest in baseball behind Turner Field in Atlanta.

The new ballpark also will have an LED display covering 2,600 square feet on the outfield wall, 700 feet of animated trim around the video screen and 60 feet of rotational signage throughout the ballpark.

Original plans for the ballpark called for a much smaller video screen to be paid for entirely by the sports commission. The Nationals ownership group paid an additional $2.8 million toward the upgraded scoreboard, bringing the total to about $10 million.

Mitsubishi Electric has built some of the largest scoreboards and video screens in the major leagues, including those at Turner Field and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

“We are excited to have incorporated a state-of-the-art video system at Nationals Park as part of our endeavor to offer the best game day experience for Nationals fans,” principal owner Mark Lerner said.

Extra bases

Injured right-hander John Patterson flew back to Washington last night and will be examined by team doctor Ben Shaffer today. Patterson was placed on the 15-day disabled list Sunday with soreness in his right elbow and biceps, though an MRI revealed no structural damage. …

The Nationals made some unusual history Sunday against the Cubs. The two teams used a combined six players named “Ryan” in the game, the first time that has happened in major league history. Washington used Ryan Church, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Langerhans and Ryan Wagner, while Chicago used Ryan Dempster and Ryan Theriot.

Want more Nats? Check out Nats Home Plate.

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