In the past two seasons, Tony Armas Jr. has won a total of four games. Yet it is a mark of the state of the Washington Nationals' starting rotation that the club must have Armas overcome his recent injuries and have a stellar 2005 if the team is to be competitive.
Armas and the Nationals took the first step yesterday by agreeing on a one-year, $2.26 million contract, avoiding arbitration. Armas got a slight raise from the $2.1 million he made last year. Fellow right-hander Tomo Ohka is now the Nationals' only arbitration-eligible player whose case has not been resolved.
Armas, 26, could be the number two starter. But that status depends largely on Armas's health; he missed more than a calendar year after surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder in 2003, and though he returned to make 16 starts in 2004 -- going 2-4 with a 4.88 ERA -- he averaged fewer than five innings per start, and the team shut him down after Sept. 12 to further protect his shoulder.
"I'm extremely encouraged about how hard Tony Armas Jr. has worked in the offseason for the upcoming season," Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden said yesterday. "Due to the injury, he hasn't been able to show his potential for the past two years. When he's healthy, his potential is being a 15- to 20-game winner."
Armas, who spends his offseason in his native Venezuela -- where he has thrown about 25 to 30 innings of winter ball -- had a checkup with Nationals physician Bruce Thomas on Jan. 7. "In a nutshell, Tony Armas is doing wonderfully," Thomas said.
Armas, who was traded to the Montreal Expos in 1997 as part of the deal that sent Pedro Martinez to the Boston Red Sox, is 32-41 with a 4.21 ERA over parts of six major league seasons.
The Nationals continue to try to add depth to the rotation by pursuing free agent Esteban Loaiza. Bowden and Loaiza's agent spoke three times Saturday and again yesterday.
The Nationals also are continuing to speak with the agent for reliever Antonio Osuna about a minor league deal. Ricky Bottalico, another free agent reliever, likely will sign with Milwaukee, an industry source said.