- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2008

VIERA, Fla. — The Washington Nationals attempted to shore up their pitching staff yesterday by signing veteran left-hander Odalis Perez.

Perez, 31, received a nonguaranteed minor league contract and will compete for a rotation spot with John Patterson, Shawn Hill, Jason Bergmann, Matt Chico, Tim Redding, John Lannan and some of the other young hurlers at spring training.

Perez is 66-70 with a 4.47 ERA in 191 starts and 222 games over nine major league seasons. Last year, he posted an 8-11 record with a 5.57 ERA in 26 starts for the Kansas City Royals.

“He will have an opportunity to compete for a spot in our rotation,” general manager Jim Bowden said. “He gives us depth to protect us against injuries and also gives us depth so we are not forced to rush our young starters if they’re not ready.”

Perez had his best season in 2002 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, when he went 15-10 with a 3.00 ERA and made the National League All-Star team.

Bowden said if Perez makes the major league club, he will earn $850,000, with incentive bonuses kicking in at 20 starts. The Boston Red Sox also expressed interest in the Dominican Republic native.

“If there is a chance of bouncing back at his young age, this is the environment for him to do it in,” Bowden said.

Manager Manny Acta welcomed the addition.

“He’s a guy with plenty of big league experience who won as many games as anybody on our staff last year at the big-league level,” he said. “We welcome that competition. You never have enough pitching. And also the fact that we do have some guys that are coming into camp with some injuries, so we have to cover ourselves.”

Reporting day

Elijah Dukes, the talented but troubled young outfielder, is scheduled to report today, along with other position players. Dukes won’t likely appear at the stadium until tomorrow, when players are scheduled to take their physicals.

Although helping Dukes change his behavior has seemingly become a full-time organizational commitment, Acta said he won’t babysit him during spring training.

“I will make sure that I make my presence be felt by him as much as I can,” he said. “But I have 70 guys in camp. … I have to spend time with the rest of my camp, too, so it is not like it is going to be a hand-to-hand type of thing.”

In 184 at-bats last year for Tampa Bay, the 23-year-old hit 10 home runs and drove in 21 runs, with a .190 batting average. He has been considered a top prospect, but his troubles have nearly made him untouchable in the game.

After numerous efforts to help him, the Rays traded him to the Nationals this winter for minor league pitcher Glenn Gibson. Since then, the Nationals said they have kept Dukes under constant supervision.

“We are in contact with Elijah or an employee of ours who is with him every single day of his life,” Bowden said.

Held hostage

The number of players who have yet to arrive due to visa problems in their home countries should drop by one today because reliever Luis Ayala is expected to be in camp, according to Acta. He also said there is also a “good chance” catcher Jesus Flores would arrive by Saturday.

The reporting day for pitchers and catchers was Feb. 15.

Several other players, including reliever Jesus Colome, remain absent from camp.

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