Rule 5 Pickups Thriving

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 23, 2007

KISSIMMEE, Fla., March 22 -- As the Washington Nationals roster continues to take shape, it is becoming clearer that the team is almost certain to carry a pair of players selected in December's Rule 5 draft -- right-hander Levale Speigner and catcher Jesus Flores.

In order to retain a player taken in the Rule 5 draft, a club must keep him on the major league roster for the entire year. Flores, a 22-year-old from Venezuela, has been a sure bet all spring, and the club will keep veteran Robert Fick as another viable backup to starter Brian Schneider. Flores raised his average to an even .500 (10 for 20) after going 3 for 5 with a two-run homer and a double in a 16-2 drubbing of the Houston Astros on Thursday night, Washington's fourth win in a row.

The performance of Speigner, however, has been one of the most pleasant developments of spring. He threw three more scoreless innings Thursday night, and now hasn't allowed a run in his 11 2/3 innings.

"He deserves to be on this baseball team, the way he's pitched this spring," General Manager Jim Bowden said. "He's earned it. He's beaten almost all of the relievers out. That's just a fact. There's no reason to believe he can't go into the season and do what he's done this spring."

Manager Manny Acta said because right-hander Jason Simontacchi, who has a strained groin, might not be ready for the season, Speigner could enter the mix for a spot starter's job.

Got Tickets?

With almost all season ticket holders unlikely to receive their tickets before Friday -- and some coming in Monday -- team president Stan Kasten said the club would reconsider their distribution system for next season. Kasten said the club switched delivery companies this year.

"Most everyone should have their tickets about a week before we start," Kasten said. "Looking at it now, I'd really like that to be more time in advance, and I'll make sure that is the case in the future." . . .

Reliever Chris Booker, batting for one of the final spots in the bullpen, has been excused from spring training to deal with a death in his family, Acta said. . . .

Kory Casto, who has played most of the spring at third base but likely will be an outfielder in the minors during the season, saw his first action at first base. . . .

Schneider, resting a strained hamstring, is likely to play for the first time in a week on Sunday, Acta said.

Pitcher of The Day Jerome Williams took a significant step toward securing a spot in the rotation in a 64-pitch, five-inning outing last night. He allowed only two unearned runs -- both on a popup dropped by D'Angelo Jimenez -- and gave up two hits. He has not allowed an earned run in his last three outings, spanning 12 innings. Up Next vs. Tigers in Viera, 1 p.m.

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