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Nationals Add Left-Hander From Japan

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Washington Nationals delved into a market that team president Stan Kasten has identified as a priority, signing Japanese left-hander Katsuhiko Maekawa to a minor league contract that includes an invitation to major league camp, giving the veteran an outside chance of making the team.

Maekawa, 29, caught the eye of several Nationals officials -- including Manager Manny Acta and Jose Rijo, a special assistant to General Manager Jim Bowden-- while pitching during winter ball in the Dominican Republic, where he went 2-1 with a 1.82 ERA in seven appearances.

A versatile pitcher who was originally a first-round draft pick in 1997 in Japan, he could work as a lefty specialist, in long relief or as a starter, according to people familiar with his career.

Maekawa is, however, rebounding from a troubled two-year period. According to Japanese media reports, he was unofficially barred from the major leagues in his home country after his involvement in a hit-and-run accident in January 2007. According to reports, Maekawa had his license suspended in 2002, had a confrontation with a woman at the scene of the accident and then fled the scene when police asked him to produce a driver's license.

Maekawa thus went to the Dominican Republic with the idea of rebuilding his reputation and showing he could still pitch. In 2006, his last season in Japan, he went 1-7 with a 5.26 ERA for Orix. He struck out 6.9 batters per nine innings that season.

The Nationals also lost a pitcher yesterday. Right-hander Edwin Gonzalez, who never pitched for Washington, was claimed off waivers by San Diego.

In other news, Kasten said this week that Charlie Slowes, the Nationals' lead radio announcer since baseball returned to Washington in 2005, will return this season. The club will thus have the same radio team for the third straight year. Slowes's partner the past two seasons was Dave Jageler, who agreed to a new deal earlier in the offseason.

-- Barry Svrluga

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