Nationals Notebook

Nationals Notebook: Cabrera Scratched With Neck Muscle Spasms

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 30, 2009

JUPITER, Fla., March 29 -- One day after finalizing their starting rotation, the Washington Nationals found themselves, at least for one game, with no starting pitcher whatsoever. No. 3 starter Daniel Cabrera was scratched from Sunday's game because of muscle spasms on the right side of his neck, forcing the Nationals to rely on a patchwork of relievers in a 5-2 loss to the Florida Marlins.

For now, the Nationals are optimistic that Cabrera will return to make his final exhibition start, scheduled for next Friday. But in order to stick to that schedule, Cabrera must feel well enough to pitch either a bullpen side or simulated game before then.

"If he feels good [on Monday] he's going to have some type of simulated game that we'll put together for him and then he'll just go right back into his turn," Manager Manny Acta said.

Cabrera first alerted the team of his neck problems on Saturday after taking batting practice drills for pitchers. His unavailability left the Nationals with what Acta called a "bullpen day."

Tavárez Is Hit Hard

The Nationals split the eight innings among seven relievers, allowing for an extended look at most of the candidates fighting for jobs in the still-unsettled bullpen. Only two of the seven relievers who pitched yesterday have secure jobs: Saúl Rivera (one scoreless inning) and Joel Hanrahan (one inning, two runs).

The most damaging performance came from starter-by-default Julián Tavárez, whose first six pitches yielded three hits, including a Hanley Ramírez home run. The most impressive performances came from Mike Hinckley and Steven Shell, both of whom struggled earlier this spring. But Hinckley and Shell still both have strong chances to make the club -- in part because the team hasn't forgotten what the pair did last year.

Hinckley, who debuted in the big leagues in September, did not allow an earned run in 13 2/3 innings.

Shell, a fellow rookie, pitched in 39 games and finished with a 2.16 ERA.

On Sunday, each pitched one inning, and both struck out the side.

"I think what they did last year obviously has some bearing on the decision we're making here," Acta said. "Especially if they come to camp and they don't just blow up from Day 1. If they come to camp and show some consistency, it doesn't have to be perfect or exactly what they did last year, then we have a better indication. So yeah, you do have to take into consideration what they did last year." He then added, "There's no doubt that the guys that were here before -- and pitched well -- have an upper hand on the guys that just came in."

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