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SPRING TRAINING nationals report Team starts sorting through bargain bin SPRING TRAINING page 2
Nationals prepare for spring training

 Jason Simontacchi is one of a host of journeymen pitchers the Nationals hope can earn a spot in the majors.
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Date published: 2/14/2007

By TODD JACOBSON

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"It's kind of weird in the beginning, but once you get into it it's fine," said right-hander Jerome Williams, who was signed last month after spending much of last year in Triple-A with the Cubs.

Williams, of course, only has to worry about himself.

Nationals pitching coach Randy St. Claire and manager Manny Acta must put together a rotation from the dozen or so candidates in camp, not an easy task.

On Acta's first day on the job, he met with his coaching staff for 31/2 hours, detailing job responsibilities and coaching points. He stressed improving the Nationals' league-worst defense and base-running, but clearly, the starting rotation is at the top of his agenda.

"We're not just after guys that think they have the best chance of making a big league club over here," Acta said. "We are looking for the people that are going to help us win and help us for the long run, too.

"If you're here with the frame of mind that, 'I am here because I have a chance to make a big league club,' and you don't bring to the table what we're looking for, you're not going to be here long enough."

There certainly are plenty of pitchers looking for just that opportunity. If there was a reason why Tim Redding, Chris Michalak, Simontacchi and Williams have ended up wearing Nationals' jerseys, it's the chance at a starting job and a return to the big leagues.

Williams and Michalak pitched briefly in the majors last year. Simontacchi pitched with Bridgeport of the independent Atlantic League, while Redding spent the year at Triple-A with the White Sox.

"It's wide open and you just have to compete," Williams said. "That's what I am here for: to compete. Hopefully I can make the spot. If not, hopefully I can come up later on. My goal is to try to make the team out of spring."

Such a plethora of pitchers presents its share of logistical problems. When the Nationals begin playing spring training games March 2, at least two starters will throw in every game, leaving only a few weeks of solid mound time for many of the hurlers. By the last 10 days of spring, St. Claire said he'd like to start finalizing the rotation.

St. Claire has already watched video of some pitchers--he mentioned that he was intrigued by Redding and Simontacchi in particular.

Clearly, the evaluation is already starting.

"These guys should be coming in here ready to roll," he said. "They've got to be because they have to impress us. Every outing is very important to them."

Todd Jacobson: 540/735-
Email: 1974tjacobson@freelancestar.com


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SPRINGTIME IN FLORIDA Free Lance-Star reporter Todd Jacobson is in Viera, Fla., reporting from spring training.