Ayala Is Upbeat On Mound

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 17, 2007

VIERA, Fla., Feb. 16 -- The last time Luis Ayala threw off a mound at the Washington Nationals' training complex, he had a solid major league season behind him and was looking forward to another. That was last February.

In between then and Friday morning, Ayala pitched for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic, blew out his right elbow, had ligament replacement surgery, missed the entire 2006 season and underwent rehabilitation. So there was a bit of extra significance to his first bullpen session of spring training this season.

"I feel strong in my arm," Ayala said. "I threw the ball good."

Pitching coach Randy St. Claire said earlier in the week that he would be extra cautious with Ayala, whom the Nationals are vowing not to rush back. Bullpen sessions this early in spring training are just eight minutes long, and players have the option of cutting theirs short. St. Claire asked Ayala to shut his down at about the five-minute mark.

Ayala said even with the restraints, he was able to work on several pitches and that he is not limited by his arm. He went 8-7 with a 2.66 ERA in 68 appearances in 2005.

Cordero in Negotiations

Closer Chad Cordero said his negotiating session with General Manager Jim Bowden late Thursday afternoon went well, though Cordero and his agent, Larry Reynolds, left without a deal. The 24-year-old is scheduled to have an arbitration hearing on Tuesday in Phoenix, with the sides $500,000 apart.

Cordero continues to say he would like a long-term contract, and the club has offered a multiyear deal.

"To me, if I'm going to do a long-term deal, I just want something that's fair," said Cordero, who is seeking $4.15 million through arbitration. "Not something that's trying to low-ball me or end up low-balling anybody else behind me for the next couple years. That's what I want, something that's fair."

The strongest part of Cordero's résumé is his 91 saves over his first three-plus seasons in the majors, including a franchise-record 47 in 2005. But he stumbled to his worst season last year, when he posted a 3.19 ERA and gave up 13 homers.

Cordero said he remained optimistic that a deal could be struck over the weekend. If not, he'll fly to Phoenix after workouts Monday and return Tuesday night.

Chico Impresses Acta

Manager Manny Acta kept a close eye on the first two days of bullpen sessions, and said he was particularly struck by left-hander Matt Chico, a prospect acquired in the trade that sent Livan Hernandez to Arizona.

"He looked pretty impressive, the arsenal he brought out there to the bullpen," Acta said. "He's one of those guys that I'm looking at because he's going to be in the minor leagues and I'm not familiar with him." . . .

Pitchers were required to run a timed mile Friday. "Don't ask," right-hander Tim Redding said afterward. Reliever Ryan Wagner and left-hander Billy Traber won the two groups. . . . With temperatures due to dip into the 20s overnight, Acta pushed back workouts by an hour for Saturday and possibly Sunday. . . .

Other position players who arrived a couple of days early -- Sunday is the team's reporting date -- included center fielder Nook Logan, left field candidate Alex Escobar, outfielder Michael Restovich and injured first baseman Nick Johnson.

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