Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Washington Nationals added 12 more players — including veteran infielders Travis Lee, Tony Womack and D’Angelo Jimenez — to their already overflowing spring-training roster yesterday, setting the stage for a wide-open camp next month.

All 12 signed non-guaranteed, minor league contracts worth no more than $600,000 if they make the team, raising the total number of players invited to camp to a whopping 63.

Most of the non-roster invitees will face long odds at cracking the Opening Day roster, but Lee in particular could find his way there with a strong spring. With starting first baseman Nick Johnson slowly recovering from a broken right leg and likely to open the season on the disabled list, the Nationals were in need of a fallback plan.

Utilityman Robert Fick and rookie Larry Broadway will both receive strong consideration, but Lee (a .256 hitter in nine major league seasons) appears to be a viable alternative if manager Manny Acta and general manager Jim Bowden prefer an established veteran.

“With the injury to Nick Johnson, we needed to have depth at first base,” Bowden said. “Certainly, Broadway is going to get an opportunity, as is Fick. With Travis Lee, we’ll have some competition in spring training.”

Womack, a career .273 hitter who can play both middle infield positions and the outfield, appears to have less chance of making the team, given the competition he’ll face this spring. The 37-year-old will be battling with Jimenez, 29, Josh Wilson, 25, Joe Thurston, 27, and Bernie Castro, 27, for one available spot on Washington’s bench.

Much will depend on shortstop Cristian Guzman’s return from right shoulder surgery. Acta and strength and conditioning coach Kazu Tomooka were in the Dominican Republic yesterday to look at Guzman, who tore his labrum last spring and missed the entire season.

“We need some depth,” Bowden said. “If Guzman were to get hurt, [Felipe] Lopez would go to shortstop and we’d need a second baseman.”

The nine other players who signed minor league deals yesterday are right-handers Jesus Colome and Anastacio Martinez; left-hander Luis Martinez and Arnie Munoz; outfielders George Lombard and Abraham Nunez; and infielders Melvin Dorta, Jose Macias and Jorge Toca.

Notes — The Nationals have set starting times for their 81 regular season home games, with one notable change: Sunday afternoon games at RFK Stadium will now begin at 1:35 p.m. instead of 1:05 p.m. as in previous years. First pitch for all night games will continue to be 7:05 p.m.

There’s only one scheduled Saturday afternoon game so far — a rare 3:55 p.m. start against the Colorado Rockies on July 21, but more could be added if Fox decides to televise any nationally.

There are also eight scheduled weekday matinees, including a 1:05 p.m. Opening Day matchup against the Florida Marlins on April 2, a 12:05 p.m. start against the Chicago Cubs on July 4 and a 1:05 p.m. Labor Day game against the Marlins on Sept. 3. …

The team announced plans for next week’s winter caravan, which begins Monday in the District and runs through Jan. 29, with daily stops throughout the region. Acta, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, left-hander Mike O’Connor, outfielder Nook Logan and broadcasters Don Sutton, Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler will appear at various events, which include some autograph sessions. A complete schedule is available at …

To make room for right-hander Jerome Williams on the 40-man roster, Washington outrighted outfielder Tony Blanco to Class AAA Columbus. …

Spring-training tickets go on sale tomorrow and can be purchased at the Nationals’ Web site, the Space Coast Stadium box office in Viera, Fla., or by calling 888/632-NATS.

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