When Ryan Drese arrived at the Nationals' clubhouse for the first time yesterday at 3:30 p.m., the team outfitted the pitcher with a hat one size too big. Drese tried the hat on, tugged at the bill until the cap slid over his eyes and then shrugged.

"It's fine," Drese said. "I'll take it."

On his first day with the Nationals, Drese, 29, had more immediate concerns than comfort or appearance. He had no idea what time the team stretched. He had never seen the field at RFK Stadium or played in the National League. All he knew, Drese said, was that the Nationals would give him a fresh start.

The Opening Day starter for the Texas Rangers this season, Drese spiraled to a 4-6 record with a 6.46 ERA in 12 starts. The Rangers designated him for assignment on Wednesday; the Nationals claimed him Friday. He'll compete with Sun Woo Kim for the fifth spot in Washington's starting rotation.

"I expect to be a starter," said Drese, who has a career record of 31-31 with a 5.36 ERA. "That's what I want to do. That's where I'm comfortable. I can eat up innings when I'm starting."

That job, though, won't simply be handed to him. In his first start of the season, Kim allowed two runs in five innings in a 9-3 win over Seattle on Friday, a performance that impressed Nationals Manager Frank Robinson. Either Kim or Drese will start on Wednesday in Anaheim, and Robinson said he might not pick until then.

"We're going to put [Drese] in the bullpen for a few days to have that extra arm and give us a chance to look at him," Robinson said. "Right now I'm leaning to Kim for the next start, but that could change."

To make room for Drese, the Nationals designated infielder Rick Short to Class AAA New Orleans, where he plans to report today. After 12 seasons of professional baseball, Short had his first major league at-bat Friday -- and he singled in a run. He left the Nationals' clubhouse clutching five DVDs that showed his big league hit.

"After 12 years of never getting a shot, this experience kind of renews your motivation," Short said. "I'm not upset. Regardless of what happens, you can never take [Friday] night away from me."