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Veteran Perez Gets Start on Opening Day

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 23, 2008

VIERA, Fla., March 22 -- In a matter of five weeks, veteran Odalis Pérez has gone from an unemployed pitcher to a "depth" signing for the Washington Nationals on a minor league contract to the designated Opening Day starter when the team opens its new ballpark on March 30 in Washington -- a decision announced Saturday.

"He won more games [eight] than any one of our starters last year in the big leagues," Manager Manny Acta said. "He's the only one of our staff who has won 15 games before [in 2002]. And he has pitched well in spring training, too."

With the health of 2007 holdover Shawn Hill uncertain, and last season's Opening Day starter John Patterson released on Thursday, the Nationals immediately slotted Pérez into the spot in their rotation that corresponded with the coveted Opening Day start. "This was kind of the 'Plan B' all along," Acta said.

Veteran King Will Be in Bullpen

One other major personnel decision was made official Saturday when the Nationals decided to add veteran left-hander Ray King to their roster, a move that guarantees the conditional one-year, $850,000 minor league deal he signed in December and essentially completes their bullpen.

"He's done everything we've asked of him to do in spring training," Acta said. "He came [into camp] in good shape. He got people out. And he's one of those guys who takes the ball every day for you, and he's done it for years."

King, 34, will be the only lefty in the seven-man bullpen that opens the season, joining right-handers Chad Cordero, Jon Rauch, Luis Ayala, Jes┬┐s Colome, Saul Rivera and -- most likely -- Joel Hanrahan, who has pitched exceptionally well this spring and is out of minor league options. The other primary candidate, right-hander Chris Schroder, appears headed to Class AAA Columbus.

Hill Sore, but Team Is Hopeful

Right-hander Hill reported some elbow soreness following a bullpen session Friday, but remains scheduled to throw two innings in a minor league game Monday, and the Nationals still hope he can be ready to start for them April 13. . . . Lefty John Lannan threw six efficient innings in the Nationals' 4-1 win over the Atlanta Braves on Saturday, but appears slated to begin the season at Class AAA Columbus. "This was definitely my best start, no matter what happens," Lannan said. . . . One day after his spring debut, catcher Paul Lo Duca was out of Saturday's lineup, but had three at-bats in a minor league game and is scheduled to catch back-to-back games Sunday and Monday. . . . The Nationals returned first baseman Matt Whitney, a Rule 5 draft pick in December, to the Cleveland Indians, after first failing to work out a trade with Cleveland that would have allowed the Nationals to keep him. . . . Lefty Mike O'Connor was reassigned to minor league camp.

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