Natonals Notebook

Ayala Will Start On DL

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 15, 2007

JUPITER, Fla., March 14 -- Washington Nationals reliever Luis Ayala is likely to begin the season on the disabled as he slowly recovers from reconstructive elbow surgery, according to General Manager Jim Bowden.

"We have to make conservative decisions based on the injury that he's overcoming," Bowden said Wednesday. "I expect him to start the year on the disabled list. I won't rule out the possibility of that changing, but as of today, the projection on my board is that he would start the year on the disabled list."

Bowden wouldn't project when Ayala might be ready for big league competition or where he would begin the season, though Manager Manny Acta said it would likely be somewhere where the weather's warm, likely meaning he would continue to throw at the team's complex in Viera.

Ayala, who blew out his right elbow while pitching for his native Mexico in the World Baseball Classic last March, is considered not only a valuable part of this year's team, but possibly a key piece of future Nationals teams. In his first three big league seasons, he averaged 71 appearances and had a 2.75 ERA.

Bowden said he considers only three spots in the bullpen secure -- closer Chad Cordero and setup men Jon Rauch and Ryan Wagner. "The rest is still up in the air," he said.

With the club likely to carry seven relievers because of what is expected to be a shaky starting rotation, that leaves four spots open. Veteran lefty Ray King, who has a 10.80 ERA in three appearances, is likely to make the team -- and if he pitches well, could become tradable to a contender during the summer.

Chris Schroder, Micah Bowie, Emiliano Fruto, Saul Rivera and Rule 5 pick Levale Speigner are among the other competitors for jobs in the pen, though Speigner is also being considered for a starting role.

Rotation Is Open

Bowden had this to say about the starting rotation: "Other than John Patterson and Shawn Hill, no one has secured a spot." That puts Hill, who has been impressive every time out, as likely the second starter. And Jason Simontacchi made a move toward securing a spot Wednesday, allowing four hits and two earned runs in five solid innings against St. Louis, his former team.

"It was exciting, man," Simontacchi said. "It was great to get back to throw against a team I played with. It was a game within a game."

Simontacchi, who lowered his ERA to 5.25, has gotten better each time out.

"I feel good with where I am," he said.

Pitcher of the Day Right-hander Beltran Perez, who came up from Class AA to make eight appearances for Washington last season, has been getting most of his work in intrasquad minor league games and is unlikely to make the club. "We think he needs a lot more seasoning to be a part of our rotation," Acta said. Up Next Today vs. Tigers in Viera, 7:05 p.m. WTWP (107.7, 1500 AM) Today vs. Dodgers at Vero Beach, 7:05 p.m.

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