Roster Starts to Take Shape

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 29, 2006

VIERA, Fla., March 28 -- Though the demotion of outfielder Ryan Church to the minors was the move that most significantly transformed the Washington Nationals on Tuesday, the club made other moves that showed how the 25-man roster will look come Opening Day, most notably adding first baseman Daryle Ward to the 40-man roster. Ward, who was signed to a minor league contract in the offseason, would have become a free agent on Wednesday if he wasn't put on the roster.

Ward is a veteran of eight major league seasons, and it now appears he has a strong chance of making the club. Given the number of players capable of backing up starting first baseman Nick Johnson -- Matthew LeCroy, Robert Fick and Marlon Anderson -- Ward arrived at spring training with only an outside shot. But he has a .273 average and a .568 slugging percentage with four homers in 43 at-bats, and the Nationals will likely use him as a left-handed pinch hitter.

Ward's move could well mean the end of outfielder Michael Tucker's chances to make the Nationals. Tucker, too, was signed to a minor league contract, but the 11-year veteran was hitting .176 after Tuesday night's 8-3 victory over the Cleveland Indians.

The Nationals also moved shortstop Royce Clayton to the 40-man roster, a move that became all but certain when Cristian Guzman suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder this month. Guzman played catch on Monday without pain, according to General Manager Jim Bowden, but Clayton will be the starter when the season begins Monday in New York against the Mets.

To make room for Ward and Clayton, the Nationals transferred injured right-handers Luis Ayala and Brian Lawrence -- who are out for the season -- to the 60-day disabled list. Clayton will earn $1 million, Ward $700,000 if they make the club.

The club also sent right-hander Jason Bergmann and infielder Brendan Harris to Class AAA New Orleans and reassigned lefty Bill Bray, one of the organization's top prospects, to minor league camp. Bergmann pitched well for the Nationals in his major league debut last September (2-0, 2.75 ERA) and had a 2.25 ERA in seven appearances here. He's likely to be one of the first call-ups.

Bray, too, impressed -- even with a 7.04 ERA. He held the opposition scoreless in seven of nine outings.

"I learned I could get out major league hitters," Bray said. "That helps my confidence a lot."

Two More for Zimmerman

Rookie third baseman Ryan Zimmerman had his second two-homer game in three days, giving him a team-high seven homers and 15 RBI. Zimmerman also committed his seventh error in 21 games. Jose Guillen homered as well, a three-run shot that gave him eight RBI in seven games.

Quotable "What you do is you go down and report and you start doing so much damage that in 10 days, two weeks, three weeks -- whatever it is -- do so much damage, and then come up here and help us win." General Manager Jim Bowden , on what he said to demoted OF Ryan Church Up Next vs. Los Angeles in Vero Beach, 1 p.m.

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