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03/08/07 6:10 PM ET

Nationals release Womack, trim roster

Team reduces number of players in Major League camp to 56

VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals trimmed their roster from 72 to 56 on Thursday, when they gave infielder Tony Womack his unconditional release and reassigned infielders Tony Blanco, Melvin Dorta and Jorge Toca, outfielders Wayne Lydon and George Lombard, and pitchers Felix Diaz, Anastacio Martinez, Eduardo Valdez, Luis Martinez and Bill White to Minor League camp.

The Nationals also optioned outfielder Frank Diaz to Triple-A Columbus and left-hander Mike Hinckley to Double-A Harrisburg. In addition, first baseman Nick Johnson and left-handers Mike O'Connor and Brandon Claussen are expected to begin the season on the disabled list.

"We had to [make roster cuts] because some of those guys were not getting enough at-bats and some of them are part of our future," manager Manny Acta said. "We would rather have them down [in Minor League camp] and get consistent work."

Womack and Hinckley were the biggest names who were cut. Womack, who signed a Minor League contract in January, was looking to be a reserve, but he went hitless in seven at-bats.

According to Acta, Womack, 37, took the news like a professional. The team felt it was best to release him early in camp so he could hook up with another club. Womack was not available for comment.

"We just told him that we didn't think he could help us and he is not in our plans," Acta said. "He took it well. We didn't want to waste his time. If he is not in our plans, then why keep him here until March 28 and then not give him an opportunity to hook up with another club?"

Acta hinted last week that Hinckley was going to start the season in the Minor Leagues. The team wants Hinckley to improve his mechanics on the mound and be more effective. In 2004, Hinckley was the Expos' Minor League Pitcher of the Year, but injuries and slower-than-expected development put him in the middle of the pack of the Nationals' pitching prospects.

Last year, Hinckley pitched at Class A Potomac and was 6-8 with a 5.52 ERA in 28 starts. He walked 63 batters in 148 1/3 innings and committed five balks.

Hinckley wasn't able to pitch in a Spring Training game. He has pitched in the intrasquad and accelerated games.

Hinckley appeared upset on Thursday, but didn't comment. However, Acta said Hinckley took the news very well.

"He is right on track, and we just asked him to not waste any time second-guessing himself or our decision," Acta said. "We told him to go down there and continue to do what he was doing, have a good season and just become part of our future."

Claussen, Johnson and O'Connor were expected to start on the season on the DL before Spring Training started. Claussen is recovering from shoulder surgery and isn't expected to pitch in a game until May.

"I'm doing good," Claussen said. "We are staying on schedule. I haven't had a setback yet. I'm keeping a positive attitude. I want to give the Nationals everything I can, but I want to make sure that I'm healthy when I come back."

Johnson is still recovering from a broken leg suffered on Sept. 23 against the Mets. He still has a noticeable limp and there is no timetable as to when he will return.

The leg is getting stronger, however. Johnson is often seen walking with head athletic trainer Lee Kuntz. Johnson has even started walking up stadium steps.

"I'm trying to get this thing strong first," Johnson said.

O'Connor had minor elbow surgery during the offseason and most likely will not see any action until April. He has been playing catch on flat ground.

The Nationals are expected to make more cuts on Tuesday.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.