Nats Acquire Pitcher Astacio

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 28, 2006

VIERA, Fla., Feb. 27 -- Two days after suffering a major blow to their starting rotation when Brian Lawrence was lost because of a shoulder injury, the Washington Nationals filled the hole Monday night, signing veteran right-hander Pedro Astacio to a one-year deal, pending a physical examination on Wednesday that will include an MRI exam on Astacio's shoulder and elbow.

Astacio, 36, is 124-119 in his career with a 4.61 ERA, and split the 2005 season between Texas and San Diego, going a combined 6-10 with a 4.69 ERA.

Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden declined to comment on Monday night because the deal will not be official until Astacio passes his physical. He had been negotiating with Astacio's agent, Steve Schneider, but as recently as Sunday, Bowden had said the negotiations were "dead."

Astacio enters a rotation picture in need of some definition. Only right-handers Livan Hernandez and John Patterson are locked in at the top, with right-handers Tony Armas Jr., Ryan Drese, Ramon Ortiz and Jon Rauch among the names vying for the final three spots. Drese is returning from shoulder surgery in September and is being held back in the early part of spring training.

Lawrence, 29, was lost for the season after surgery on Sunday to repair tears to the labrum and rotator cuff in his right arm, less than four months after the team acquired him from the Padres in a trade for third baseman Vinny Castilla.

Astacio also has a history of shoulder problems, including surgery to repair a torn labrum in June 2003, which caused him to miss the rest of that season and all but the final month of the 2004 season.

He struggled to a 2-8 record and a 6.04 ERA for the Rangers in 2005 before being released in June, but he pitched well for the Padres, going 4-2 with a 3.17 ERA in 12 appearances (10 of them starts) and helping them win the NL West.

The subject of MRIs became an issue Monday when Nationals Manager Frank Robinson suggested the team should have had Lawrence undergo one in November before consummating the trade with the Padres.

"That's our bad," Robinson said. "We chose not to give him an MRI. The physicals should cover everything. . . . I would think that would be something to get our attention for the future, at least. Why not? [An MRI is] the only way you're going to be able to look at someone. But I don't make policy around here."

Bowden later said the team decided against an MRI, which can cost as much as $10,000, because Lawrence had been one of the most durable pitchers in baseball over the previous five years.

"It's too expensive to do MRIs on every single transaction," Bowden said. "In the case of Brian, he had made every start the last four or five years. We saw him throw a three-hit shutout. We were trading a player [Castilla] with bad knees. We thought there were MRI risks on both sides. [So] we made the decision not to."

Bowden said the team performs MRIs on a case-by-case basis, based on a player's injury history and the determination of its scouts.

"We do a lot of MRIs," Bowden said. "In fact, we probably lead the league in MRIs."

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