By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 31, 2006
VIERA, Fla., March 30 -- The Washington Nationals set their final 25-man roster on Thursday before they left Florida, keeping first baseman Daryle Ward as a potentially dangerous pinch hitter and naming Wiki Gonzalez the backup catcher.
The Nationals reassigned catcher Alberto Castillo and right-hander Kevin Gryboski to minor league camp and outrighted right-hander Travis Hughes to Class AAA New Orleans. Castillo and Gryboski, major league veterans, also will start the season at New Orleans.
To make room for Ward, the Nationals released veteran outfielder Michael Tucker, who came to camp with an excellent chance of becoming the team's fifth outfielder but, at age 34, hit .158 in 19 games with one extra-base hit.
Ward said he knew he arrived with just a "slim chance" of making the roster, but the 30-year-old looked to have some pop, hitting four homers with a .574 slugging percentage. The move leaves the Nationals with just four true outfielders; veteran utility man Damian Jackson could be used as the fifth, and Marlon Anderson has played there as well.
Ward, who has 76 homers in his eight-year career, said he remained focused on "the light at the end of the tunnel" and didn't pay attention to how the roster might shape up.
"I went in there and asked Frank [Robinson, the manager] what it would take to sneak on the roster," Ward said. "He said you just got to make some room on the roster. There's not a spot for you. You got to make a spot."
Robinson said the choice between Castillo and Gonzalez was "kind of a tossup." But Gonzalez, who has hit .240 in parts of six major league seasons, clearly benefited from the fact that he remained here while Castillo played for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. Castillo had only 10 plate appearances here, hitting .250, while Gonzalez hit .333 with four doubles and seven RBI in 24 at-bats.
"I'm just thankful for the opportunity," Gonzalez said.
Hughes had to clear waivers before he accepted his assignment to New Orleans.Armas Hit Hard
Right-hander Tony Armas Jr., the fifth member of what could be a shaky Nationals rotation, had another rocky outing, allowing five runs in 4 2/3 innings of a 7-5 loss to the Atlanta Braves. Armas, though, continues to say he feels good and is worried more about his health than results. He allowed nine earned runs in 11 innings here.
Armas will remain here and make a minor league start on Tuesday, his regular turn in the rotation, which is an off day for the Nationals. Right-hander Ramon Ortiz also remained here -- skipping Friday and Saturday's exhibition games against the Orioles in Washington and Baltimore, respectively -- so he could make a minor league start Sunday. His first regular season start will be next Friday in Houston, with Armas to pitch April 9 against the Astros. . . .
Right-hander Luis Ayala underwent ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow Friday in Los Angeles. He will begin rehabilitation next week in Tempe, Ariz.
By the Numbers 17 Nats who were not on the 2005 25-man Opening Day roster Up Next vs. Orioles at RFK Stadium, 7 p.m.