VIERA, Fla., March 14 -- Washington Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden said he entered spring training with an "open mind" about 22-year-old left-hander Mike Hinckley, the franchise's top pitching prospect. Bowden, though, understood the chances of Hinckley making the major league roster were slim, and Monday he sent Hinckley to Class AA Harrisburg to begin the season.
In three appearances with the major league club, Hinckley allowed eight earned runs in six innings -- good for a 12.00 ERA. He was one of three players shipped out of major league camp Monday, joining righties Dan Smith and Josh Karp. Both players will likely begin the season with Class AAA New Orleans.
"I never like to see anyone struggle," Manager Frank Robinson said. "That's kind of a tough lesson. . . . It was a long shot that he was going to make this ballclub. It's probably better that he didn't pitch well because we probably would've kept him longer, and it may have not been a good decision."
Robinson said it would be better for Hinckley to get into his routine with the minor leaguers. He said Hinckley needed to relax because he was "trying to throw it through the backstop rather than just trying to get it by the hitter."
Smith, 29, is still working his way back from rotator cuff surgery in 2003, and said he welcomed the chance to go to New Orleans and regain his arm strength. But he left camp with renewed confidence.
"I'm going to be back," he said, "and I'm going to be back for a long time."
Right-hander Francis Beltran will undergo ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow Tuesday, a reconstructive procedure that will end Beltran's season before it starts.
Beltran was examined Monday by orthopedic surgeon James Andrews in Birmingham. Beltran, 25, is one of two players the franchise acquired from the Chicago Cubs last year in the complex trade that sent shortstop Orlando Cabrera to the Boston Red Sox.