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03/20/07 6:14 PM ET

Nats sign Astacio to Minor League deal

Veteran right-hander will start season at Triple-A Columbus

JUPITER, Fla. -- In need of pitching depth down the road, the Nationals signed right-hander Pedro Astacio to a non-guaranteed Minor League deal on Tuesday.

Astacio will report to the Carl Barger Complex in Viera, Fla., on Wednesday and not be invited to the big club during Spring Training. In fact, he will fight to win a job at Triple-A Columbus. If Astacio makes the big-league roster, he will make $600,000 with no incentives.

Astacio was seen at the Nats' Major League camp around 9 a.m. ET, shaking hands with ace John Patterson and hugging catcher Brian Schneider. Astacio declined to speak to a reporter.

General manager Jim Bowden said that the team signed Astacio because if the Nationals need to call up a pitcher to the big leagues, they don't want to rely one of their prospects, such as right-hander Collin Balester. The team is also concerned about right-hander Jason Simontacchi, who is close to making the rotation but is experiencing a tight right groin and expected to miss his next start.

"We are happy with the performance of a lot of pitchers in camp, but we don't have a lot of depth," Bowden said. "We don't want to get into a position where we are forced to rush a Collin Balester before he's ready. That's a little concern for us right now.

"We are very happy with Patterson, [Shawn] Hill, [Matt] Chico and Simontacchi. [Joel] Hanrahan is throwing well, Jerome Williams threw well in his last start, but you have to have depth and you have to prepare for injuries. And we are just not happy enough with our depth to protect ourselves."

This will be Actacio's second season with Washington. The veteran signed with the organization on March 2, 2006, after it was announced that former Nats right-hander Brian Lawrence was going to miss the entire season because of a torn rotator cuff and labrum. However, Astacio wound up getting hurt himself, missing most of the first half because of a right forearm strain.

Astacio returned to action on July 3 and finished the season with a 5-5 record and a 5.98 ERA. Astacio's best pitching performance of the year came on Aug. 15, when he blanked the Braves.

On Sept. 27, his last game of the season, Astacio suffered tightness in his forearm and had to leave the game against the Phillies after five innings. Astacio is expected to take a physical soon to make sure that the forearm is OK.

Jose Rijo, the special assistant to the general manager, saw Astacio throw on the mound in the Dominican Republic and believes, baring injuries, that Astacio will be a productive pitcher. Astacio was in the Dominican Republic when the Nationals called for his services.

"If he's healthy, he will give you five or six good innings. The guy will get better as Spring Training comes along," Rijo said. "Astacio is a very positive Plan B, and I think everybody will feel the same way. He threw the ball OK last year, but we knew if he started the season from the beginning, he would have thrown the ball better."

Astacio has pitched 16 big-league seasons with eight teams, including the Dodgers, Mets and Rockies. He owns a lifetime 129-124 record with a 4.67 ERA.

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