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03/18/09 7:40 PM ET

Nats ink free-agent reliever Beimel

Left-hander signs one-year conract worth $2 million

VIERA, Fla. -- Manager Manny Acta finally has the eighth-inning reliever he was looking for, as the Nationals signed left-hander Joe Beimel to a one-year, $2 million contract on Wednesday afternoon.

Beimel is expected to report to camp Thursday and wear uniform No. 97.

Before the announcement, Acta said right-hander Jesus Colome had the lead to being the primary setup man, but the organization clearly was not comfortable with him pitching in close games.

Beimel, 31, will pitch between closer Joel Hanrahan and right-hander Saul Rivera, who returned from the World Baseball Classic on Wednesday. Rivera will be used most often in the sixth and seventh innings.

"Joe is effective against left-handers and right-handers. He can pitch late in the game. He has been in the playoffs and all that stuff," Acta said. "We are thrilled to have him, especially in our division. The opposing clubs have good left-handed hitters and this guy is going to help us out."

Beimel, an eight-year veteran, went 5-1 with 12 holds and a 2.02 ERA in 71 appearances last season with the Dodgers. He started the season as a late-innings reliever, but became a left-handed specialist after the All-Star break.

Beimel began his big league career with the Pirates in 2001 and served one-year stints with the Twins and Rays before joining the Dodgers in 2006. He is 21-23 with 55 holds, three saves and a 4.31 ERA in eight big league seasons.

According to Beimel, the Nationals entered the picture last week.

"It's good to be with the Nationals," Beimel said via phone. "It's good to have a defining role, but I'm flexible."

Beimel acknowledged that he was surprised that it took so long for him to sign with a team, but is happy that he made the right decision.

"It was definitely a slow offseason," Beimel said. "But I was patient and I signed with the right team and I had a good offer."

The Nationals now have to find four more relievers for the bullpen. Jason Bergmann, Colome, Michael Hinckley, Wil Ledezma, Garrett Mock, Steven Shell and Terrell Young are all candidates. Jorge Sosa also is a candidate, but he has yet to arrive in camp because of visa issues.

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