Team Still Feels The Love From An Old Friend

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 28, 2008

JUPITER, Fla., Feb. 27 -- The Washington Nationals didn't aggressively pursue free agent pitcher Liván Hernández -- their Opening Day starter in 2005 and '06 -- in the offseason, and Hernández eventually signed with the Minnesota Twins. But in a way, Hernández started the Nationals' exhibition opener Wednesday against Florida.

In August 2006, the Nationals traded Hernández to Arizona for left-hander Matt Chico and right-hander Garrett Mock, minor leaguers at the time who were the first two pitchers the Nationals used in a 3-3 nine-inning tie with the Marlins.

Chico, who went 7-9 with a 4.63 ERA in 31 major league starts in 2007, looked fine on paper, throwing two scoreless innings, allowing one hit and one walk. But in a spring in which he wanted to throw more strikes and eliminate bases on balls, the fact that he threw only 16 strikes among his 32 pitches was less encouraging.

"I was a little more pleased with the fact that I was down in the zone for the most part, where I wanted to be," Chico said.

"But just trying to get that first-pitch strike, there was just a little bit too much adrenaline going, just being the first one trying to do too much."

Mock, who struggled through an injury-plagued season in the minors last year, appears to have overcome an injury to his left knee. He would have to wow General Manager Jim Bowden and others this spring to make the club. He started decently, allowing two singles and an unearned run with two strikeouts in two innings against the Marlins.

Not Catching a Break

Bowden said he expected projected starting catcher Paul Lo Duca to be ready by mid-March following minor surgery on his left knee last month. The prospects, though, for projected backup Johnny Estrada aren't as good. Asked if Estrada -- who had surgery on his right elbow and a knee early in the offseason -- would be ready for Opening Day, Bowden said, "I can't answer that today."

Estrada is still limited throwing, and there is no projected date for his return, though his knee appears healthy. If Estrada, signed to a one-year, $1.25 million contract last month, isn't ready by the March 30 opener, Jesús Flores would likely step into the backup role. . . .

Bowden said he wants to cut the number of players in major league camp from the current 75 to 55 by March 10. . . .

Manager Manny Acta said the regulars who did not make the trip for the opener -- including Zimmerman, right fielder Austin Kearns, second baseman Ronnie Belliard and first baseman Dmitri Young -- are expected to play in Friday's home opener against Florida in Viera. Thursday's exhibition against Georgetown will be used largely to look at some of the fringe players in camp, other than right-hander Jason Bergmann.

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