Notes: Chico to start spring opener
Left-hander to focus on cutting down walk totals this spring
VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals have announced that left-hander Matt Chico will start the exhibition opener against the Marlins on Wednesday night at Roger Dean Stadium. Chico acknowledged that he has a lot to prove starting that day.
The Nationals would like to see Chico cut down on his walks. In 2007, Chico walked 74 batters in 167 innings. The southpaw does not sport a blazing fastball, so having great command of his pitches is the key to success.
"I had 74 walks, which isn't good. That is something I'm really going to focus on this spring. Hopefully, it will be better," he said.
Chico was the only member of the Nationals not to miss a turn in the rotation because of injuries. He went 7-9 with a 4.63 ERA.
"He is very competitive," said pitching coach Randy St. Claire. "He went to the mound every time we asked him to. He is a healthy guy. He will pitch innings for you. He will keep you in the ballgame. I just think if he cuts those walks down, he will find that his ERA will go down.
On Aug. 17, the Nationals sent Chico to Triple-A Columbus to work on his mechanics. It appeared to have worked, because after he returned to the Major Leagues on Sept.1, Chico went 2-2 with 3.38 ERA in six starts. During that period, Chico walked 2.3 batters per nine innings.
"You hate it, but it was one the best things for me," Chico said about his demotion to Columbus. "I was able to focus on things."
Look who's at first: Manager Manny Acta said that he expects first baseman Nick Johnson to start playing in exhibition games starting on Wednesday. It will mark Johnson's first game since Sept. 23, 2006, when he broke his leg against the Mets at Shea Stadium. Johnson has yet to slide into a base this spring.
"It will be good to get out there and let it go," Johnson said. "Believe me, if I hit a ball in the gap and have to get to second, I'm getting down, baby. If it hurts, so be it. I'm not stopping."
Injury report: Reliever Ryan Wagner threw live batting practice for the first time this spring and didn't have any problems. He was limited to 15 pitches, all fastballs.
Wagner, who missed most of the 2007 because of a tear in his right rotator cuff, will not start the regular season on time. The team does not want to rush him back to the big leagues. Wagner most likely will not pitch in rehab game until the Nationals head north to start the regular season.
"It's one of those things that you can't rush it. If you rush, you have a setback. Then a small problem could turn into something big," Wagner said. "We are just taking it slow and we'll see where we go from there."
Right-hander Tim Redding strained a muscle in his neck and had to be pushed back a few days before he makes his first exhibition start of the spring. According to St. Claire, Redding hurt the neck while warming up during practice.
Redding is expected to have a bullpen session on Tuesday and throw batting practice two days later.
"He'll be a few back, but not too many," St. Claire said.
TV news: For the second year in a row, MASN will televise every available Nationals game on one network, and will begin broadcasting key matchups in Hi-Definition during the 2008 season.
The 80 games in HD will be evenly split between the Nationals and Orioles and will include the first available home game for both teams -- the Orioles host Tampa Bay on March 31, while the Nationals are at home April 7 against the Marlins.
Coming up: The Nationals practice at their training facility on Tuesday morning, a day before starting their exhibition season against the Marlins.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.