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Nationals sign pitching prospects
By TODD JACOBSON
They're young, eager, and like most of the candidates to make the Washington Nationals' wide-open starting rotation, intent on proving they can pitch in the big leagues again.
For the two newest Nationals, that's what team officials are hoping happens.
Right-hander Jerome Williams, a former top prospect of the San Francisco Giants who spent most of last season in the minors with the Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics, signed a one-year big league deal yesterday. The contract is worth $500,000 if he makes Washington's 25-man roster.
Lefty Brandon Claussen, who had surgery Aug. 14 to repair a torn left rotator cuff, signed a minor-league deal.
Williams, 25, will compete in spring training with at least a dozen other pitchers for four open spots in Washington's rotation. Claussen, 27, isn't expected to be ready to pitch until June or July, Nationals general manager Jim Bowden said.
To make room for Williams, outfielder Tony Blanco is expected to be removed from the team's 40-man roster.
"It's a low-risk gamble on both of them," Bowden said. "If in fact we could get them to reach their potential, we think we've got two outstanding young arms."
It's a low-cost philosophy the Nationals have followed this winter. While some teams have dipped into the free agent market, signing high-priced pitchers like Barry Zito, Jason Schmidt and Gil Meche, Washington has brought in Tim Redding, Jason Simontacchi, Colby Lewis and Joel Hanrahan.
Each is like Williams and Claussen--one-time prospects with something to prove--and they'll join a host of rookies competing in spring training for four spots alongside John Patterson in Washington's starting rotation.
That opportunity was what drew Williams to Washington. He said he had big league offers from several teams, but he knew the Nationals' rotation would be wide open.