Sunday, October 15, 2006

ST. LOUIS — Despite indications the Washington Nationals are zeroing in on Joe Girardi to be their next manager, baseball sources said the club is not close to hiring the fired Florida Marlins skipper.

With speculation rampant that the Chicago Cubs are on the verge of hiring Lou Piniella, Girardi (also a candidate for that job) would appear to have an inside track to the Nationals’ job.

But sources with knowledge of the organization’s search said last night the club remains far from naming a replacement for Frank Robinson.

Girardi, who may win National League manager of the year honors for keeping the low-budget Marlins in the wild-card race most of the season, is still in the mix with Washington, but there are outside factors that might delay a decision.

Girardi is scheduled to work as a pregame analyst for Fox during Games 3, 4 and 5 of the World Series, so it’s unlikely he would be hired by any club before then. His agent, Steve Mandell, did not return messages yesterday.

The Nationals continue to look at other candidates besides Girardi, including former Cubs and San Francisco Giants manager Dusty Baker, Atlanta Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton and New York Yankees first base coach Tony Pena. The club also has interviewed Houston Astros bench coach Cecil Cooper and Chicago White Sox third base coach Joey Cora and still may talk with New York Mets coaches Manny Acta and Jerry Manuel once their season is over.

Washington general manager Jim Bowden did not return calls seeking comment. He has not spoken publicly since announcing he wasn’t renewing Robinson’s contract Sept. 30.

Wherever Girardi winds up, he won’t be joined by his preferred pitching coach, Rick Kranitz. Girardi had said he wanted to bring Kranitz along with him, but the Marlins announced Friday they have re-signed him for 2007.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To

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