Nationals Notebook

Astacio Gets Shot At Team

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 21, 2007

JUPITER, Fla., March 20 -- The Washington Nationals entered spring training with 38 pitchers in major league camp in hopes of assembling a rotation. On Tuesday, still unhappy with their depth, they added one more to minor league camp, a leftover from last year's starting corps, veteran Pedro Astacio.

Astacio, 37, agreed to terms on a non-guaranteed minor league contract, and he will be given the opportunity to pitch his way onto the team. Astacio went 5-5 with a 5.98 ERA in 17 starts for the Nationals last season and would make $600,000 for his time in the majors -- though there are no guarantees that will happen.

"You have to have depth and you have to prepare for injuries, and we're just not happy enough with our depth to protect ourselves," General Manager Jim Bowden said. "There's no guarantees he even makes the Triple-A team at this point. But we need to have depth so we don't hurt a prospect or force a prospect to come up here when he's not ready."

In particular, Bowden mentioned Colin Ballester, the 20-year-old right-hander who is the organization's top prospect but will likely begin the year at Class AA Harrisburg.

Several of the dozens of candidates for the rotation haven't panned out. Bowden said the club was very happy with right-handers John Patterson and Shawn Hill and lefty Matt Chico.

Right-hander Jason Simontacchi has also all but secured a spot in the rotation, but he has a slightly strained groin and had to skip his scheduled start Tuesday. Manager Manny Acta said it was imperative that Simontacchi be able to pitch on his next turn, Sunday.

Chico Battles Through

Chico threw four scoreless innings in the Nationals' 3-0 victory over the Florida Marlins.

He started out in wobbly fashion when he walked the second man he faced and then entered into a protracted at-bat with Miguel Cabrera, one of the National League's best hitters. But despite what he considered to be a shaky fastball, Chico hung in and struck out Cabrera with a curveball. He allowed two hits and two walks in his 64-pitch outing.

"This kid can pitch," Acta said. Asked if Chico, who has a 2.70 ERA in his four appearances, has nailed down his spot in the rotation, Acta said, "He can't be celebrating yet," before pausing. "But he's close."

Chico said he was happy to survive without his best fastball because he worked in his other three pitches -- curveball, change-up and five or six sliders. But he doesn't think he's on the team yet.

"I don't think anything's secure whatsoever," Chico said, "until Manny Acta comes and tells me."

Pitcher of The Day With the score 1-0, closer Chad Cordero worked out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the eighth by getting a pop-up and a routine fly ball, keeping his ERA at 0.00 through five appearances. Up Next vs. Braves in Viera, 7 p.m., MASN

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