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03/22/08 6:01 PM ET

Perez is Nats' Opening Day starter

Left-hander to begin team's season for the first time in career

VIERA, Fla. -- After Saturday's 4-1 victory over the Braves, Nationals manager Manny Acta announced that left-hander Odalis Perez will be the Opening Day starter on March 30, when Washington plays Atlanta at the new Nationals Park. Acta gave Perez the news in a closed-door meeting before the game.

Acta said Perez, 30, received the nod because he has more experience than anyone in the starting rotation, which now includes just Jason Bergmann and Tim Redding. Going with four starters to begin the season, the Nationals are still trying to figure out who will be the fourth person between left-handers Matt Chico and John Lannan.

"He won more games than any one of our starters in the big leagues last year," Acta said about Perez. "He is the only one on our staff who won 15 games before and he has pitched well in Spring Training. He earned it."

It has been a tremendous comeback of sorts for Perez. He had a tough time finding a job this offseason after going 8-11 with a 5.57 ERA with the Royals. It wasn't until Feb. 19 when Perez signed a Minor League contract with the Nationals.

However, Perez wasn't able to compete in a Major League exhibition game until March 15 because he didn't have his work visa. He wasn't scheduled to get the visa until March 27, but Jose Rijo, the special assistant to Nationals general manager Jim Bowden, pulled some strings and was able to get Perez's work visa earlier than expected.

It took only two starts before the Nationals told Perez that he made the team and is the Opening Day starter.

"To hear the news that I would be the Opening Day guy, it makes me feel that the job I've done [in Spring Training was good]," Perez said. "I'm happy because I'm getting this opportunity that a lot of people want."

The start will have historical value. Perez will become the first Major League hurler to throw a regular-season pitch at Nationals Park. This will be the first Opening Day start of his nine-year career.

"That's history," Perez said. "I'm the first guy to pitch at the stadium. It's a brand new stadium. During the first pitch, there will be a lot of pictures. It's a great feeling for me to be able to throw the first pitch."

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