Saturday, February 16, 2008

Ray King, 34, is a left-handed reliever who signed with the Washington Nationals last year as a free agent. After going 1-1 with a 4.54 ERA in 55 appearances, King was traded Sept. 4 to the Milwaukee Brewers for a player to be named later, who turned out to be minor leaguer Andrew Lefave. King signed a minor league deal this winter to return to Washington, where he is competing for a bullpen spot: He was one of the main player representatives in the last labor contract negotiated by the Players Association. He lives in the off-season in Arizona with his wife, Cherie, and two children, his son Tyrell and daughter Brookelynn.

Q: How was your offseason? Any changes in your life?

A: We moved into a new house and spent a lot of time getting that together. I was also focused on trying to drop some pounds. I worked hard, dropped about 22 pounds and feel good right now.

Q: What was it that made you decide to lose the weight?

A: It was a mixture of a few things. I weighed out at the end of the season in Milwaukee at almost 270 pounds. I got home, and the clothes didn’t fit the same. I looked at some videotapes and some pictures around the house. I said, I’ve got to do something. I heard from my agent talking to some teams early that I may blow out and all that. It kind of irritated me because I have been in the league for going on nine years and been on the DL twice in my career. So you want to try to quiet critics and show that you still have the desire to accept change. Sometimes you don’t want to change but you accept it and move on. So I busted my tail, and from a health standpoint I feel a lot better.

Q: Did you want to come back to Washington?

A: This was one of the first phone calls I made this offseason. When I got traded, I had talked to (Nationals general manager Jim Bowden) about it and made a couple of call this offseason and said I wanted to come back. I feel like I can still pitch and would be happy to come back to Washington and be part of the bullpen. This is probably going to be one of the better bullpens in baseball this year. You have guys who have developed into learning their roles and accepting their positions, so it should be fun. I would like to play here more than just this year. I would like to stay three or four years here.

Q: What do you think about some of the changes the new young outfielders and a new catcher, Paul Lo Duca?

A: I think it was great to get some young guys who will be part of this organization, along with Zimmerman, for a while. As for the catcher, we’ve got a pretty good one in Lo Duca, and hopefully he will be ready as soon as possible. But if Johnny (Estrada, the other new Nationals catcher who likely will be the backup if Lo Duca is healthy,) has to step in, I played with Johnny in 2003. He is a guy who will probably hit for you .275 or .280 and catch a great game and call a great game. So from an overall standpoint, I think this team got better. Nobody gave us a chance last year to win 70-plus ballgames with the team we had then, and then coming into camp, we only had one starter that we knew who would be there, and he wound up getting hurt. Now with the new young position players and the young pitchers as in (Shawn) Hill, (Matt) Chico and (Jason) Bergmann, who have gotten their feet wet, it is a tough division, but I think this team can compete in it.

Q: What is the perception of this team outside of Washington among players?

A: Last year at the start of the season because so many people made so many predictions about how bad we would be and teams would come in figuring it would be easy to get two out of three, I think a lot of teams saw that we showed up and played, so by the end of the season, teams didn’t want to play us. You look at the Phillies and Mets and all that, and Manny (Acta) had said from the very get go that we would be a team that would be a team that would affect the east. Winning 70-some games with a young team and a first-year manager, this organization has turned the corner. I think now it is a straightaway. Now you have to say Washington has a chance to compete. When I was with Milwaukee, they would talk about Washington and said, ‘Man, that is a pretty good team over there.’ The talent is here. Our main concern is if Hill can stay healthy, if Patterson can stay healthy, then the pitching staff is there.

Q: One of the most important things a manager has to do is handle the bullpen. How do you think Manny Acta did as a first-year manager doing that?

A: I think he did a tremendous job. We had some guys down there who made it easier for Manny because there were guys down there that wanted the ball. I’ve been on teams (on which guys) would say, I need a day off. Manny was good about when he got a guy up, the majority of time he got him in. After April, everyone set into their roles where they knew what situation they were going into. My hat goes off to Manny for the way he handled (Chad) Cordero. He was struggling a little bit, but he gave him a little breather and then put him back in there. Sometimes as a pitcher you need a hug every once in a while. You need that pat on the back that says everything is going to be okay because it is such a long season. When you are a closer or a setup guy and you lose a game that your team battled in, it eats at you. Manny had a talk with Chief and told him we are in this together. Manny is a manager who a lot of players relate to, a younger manager who feels some of our pain, and we feel some of what he is going through. He never did anything, I guess you would say, external. Everything was internal. He called his meetings right on point and scolded people when they needed to be, but he did it in a professional way, and players respected him. I think Manny is going to become one of the great managers of the game for a long time.

Q: If you hadn’t become a major league player, what do you think you would be doing?

A: I probably would be coaching high school baseball somewhere. That was my goal when I went to college. I was fortunate enough and blessed to throw a baseball with my left hand. But even now when I am done, my main objective is the work for the union, or if not go back to Arizona, get a high school job and try to teach the game of baseball the right way.

Thom Loverro

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