Nationals Notebook

Balester's Decent Outing Brings No Guarantees

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 16, 2009

VIERA, Fla., March 15 -- For much of the spring, Collin Balester has worked too fast. In games, he tends to rush his delivery. And that leads to too many high fastballs and too many breaking balls in the dirt.

It's also led Balester to struggle at an inopportune time. These days, as Balester competes for a spot at the back end of the rotation, a three-inning, no-runs performance like the one he had on Sunday isn't good enough. Not when he walked three, and nearly a fourth, in the third inning. Not with his primary competition, Shairon Martis (8 IP, 1 ER) and Jordan Zimmermann (8 1/3 IP, 0 ER) enjoying such fine springs.

Balester, 22, split 2008 between Class AAA Columbus and Washington. After this game, a 3-0 loss to Detroit, Balester's former Columbus coach, Tim Foli, found him in the clubhouse and delivered some encouragement.

Foli's message, according to Balester: "Stay positive. Show people that you're keeping your head up."

This spring, Balester has allowed eight runs (and four home runs) in 11 innings.

"It's not the end of the world if I don't make this team, you know," Balester said. "You can't do anything about it. Now I do want to make the team, don't get that wrong. I definitely want to make this team, but I'm not going to try too hard or else I'll just give up 40 one game."

Attractive Offer, After All

The longer Julián Tavárez thought about the Nationals, they better they looked. The team first contacted Tavárez in November, inviting him to spring training on a non-guaranteed minor league contract. Tavárez said no.

He kept waiting. He played earlier this month for the Dominican WBC team, throwing 1 1/3 innings. But with spring training just around the corner, Tavárez was still very much unemployed. The Nationals called again, offering the same deal.

"Why did I sign with the Nationals?" Tavárez said on Sunday. "When you go to a club at 4 in the morning, and you're just waiting, waiting, a 600-pounder looks like J-Lo. And to me this is Jennifer Lopez right here. It's 4 in the morning. Too much to drink. So, Nationals: Jennifer Lopez to me."

Tavárez joined his new team on Sunday, and is scheduled to pitch for the first time in an intrasquad game on Tuesday. While Tavárez awaits completion of his work visa -- something that should require only a few more days -- he is unable to compete in games.

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