Nationals Notebook

Washington Nationals Still Plan to Add Dmitri Young to 40-Man Roster

From left, Nick Johnson, Dmitri Young and Adam Dunn take turns at first base during infield drills last month. Young is still plagued by back problems.
From left, Nick Johnson, Dmitri Young and Adam Dunn take turns at first base during infield drills last month. Young is still plagued by back problems. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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By Chico Harlan and Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 27, 2009

VIERA, Fla., March 26 -- The Washington Nationals intend to add Dmitri Young to the 40-man roster before Opening Day because of a handshake agreement this past winter between Young and then-General Manager Jim Bowden. Though Bowden resigned almost four weeks ago and Young, because of back problems, has not participated in an exhibition game since March 1, the Nationals will honor the deal, two sources said.

The Nationals dropped the first baseman from their 40-man roster in November, outrighting him to Class AAA Syracuse and clearing space for the Rule 5 draft. Sources say Bowden promised Young that the move would be temporary.

Young, 35, due to make $5 million this year, has not regained the form that helped him hit .320 and win the National League comeback player of the year award in 2007, his first season with the Nationals. Young missed the second half of the 2008 season while battling complications from diabetes.

Although Young is slimmer -- the team says his diabetes is not currently a concern -- he has missed almost a month because of lingering back problems. Only recently has Young resumed playing in minor league games; he had two singles on Thursday.

The 40-man roster serves as the pool of players eligible for the 25-man team, and if Young is added, the Nationals will need to drop somebody else.

The handshake agreement is the final evidence of the bond between Young and Bowden, whose careers first overlapped with the Cincinnati Reds, for whom Young played from 1998 to 2001. All but finished with baseball after 2006, dealing with a divorce, legal problems and substance abuse issues, Young revived his career when Bowden gave him a non-guaranteed offer. Halfway through his all-star season in 2007, Young was rewarded by Bowden with a two-year, $10 million deal.

J. Zimmermann Looks Sharp

Hoping to show again that he belongs in the major leagues, pitcher Jordan Zimmermann demonstrated his ability to dominate minor league hitters on Thursday. On the Nationals' last off day of the spring, Zimmermann filled his turn in the rotation by pitching five near-flawless innings in a minor league game against the Houston Astros' soon-to-be Class AAA players.

In his five innings, Zimmermann struck out eight, walked none and allowed one hit. Forty-four of his 58 pitches went for strikes. Using a fastball that reached 94 mph, a tumbling curve that dropped to 77 and some sharp sliders and change-ups that hovered in between, Zimmermann toyed with the Astros' lineup and later said that he was "really happy" with the performance.

With pitching coach Randy St. Claire and several front office members watching, Zimmermann further boosted the odds that he will begin the year in Washington's rotation.

"I mean, they haven't told me anything," Zimmermann said. "We have a couple weeks left here, just keep working hard and we'll see what happens." . . .

Pitcher Terrell Young, a Rule 5 draft pick and a long shot to make the bullpen, will resume a throwing program Friday, he said, after an MRI exam revealed no damage on what he described as a sore right shoulder. "It just flared up," Young said. Young, selected in December from the Cincinnati Reds, has allowed six earned runs in 9 2/3 innings this spring. . . .

Second baseman Anderson Hernández, who strained his left hamstring in Wednesday night's exhibition game, was walking more easily Thursday, but the team did not have an estimate on how much time he will miss. . . .

This winter, the Nationals signed Wil Ledezma not expecting all that much -- maybe a backup option. "An inventory-type reliever," said Mike Rizzo, the acting general manager.

But Ledezma, in camp on a minor league contract, has proved to be one of the spring's biggest surprises, jumping into the competition for a spot in the bullpen. He's left-handed, and the Nationals are desperate for lefties. He throws harder (94-96 mph) than other bullpen candidates, and he has six years of big league experience.

Ledezma has a 5.10 career ERA, but Rizzo said St. Claire has tweaked his mechanics and grip. Ledezma has allowed two earned runs in 9 1/3 innings.

St. Claire "is like the mad scientist," Rizzo said. "He knows so much about the pitching mechanics and the craft and the art of pitching that he can make these very subtle moves and changes with finger pressure or grips or deliveries, or say it in a certain way where other pitching coaches haven't gotten it across."

Sheinin reported from Washington.

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