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11/19/09 12:06 AM EST

Nats in market for big-name pitching

Club reportedly has interest in Lackey, Wagner, Gonzalez

WASHINGTON -- With free agency starting at 12:01 a.m. ET on Friday, the Nationals are expected to be players.

Look for them to spend most of their money on pitching because they were at the bottom of the National League in that department this past season.

The Nationals want to acquire at least two veteran pitchers to help their young starters like John Lannan and Craig Stammen. They have already inquired about right-hander John Lackey.

Washington has been looking for this type of pitcher since after the Trade Deadline in July. It ended up signing right-hander Livan Hernandez in late August. Although he did a good job for the Nationals, there's less than a 50-50 chance he will return to the club.

Lackey, who is 31 years old, has played his entire eight-year career with the Angels. He has won 102 games and averaged 187 innings per season. His best season was in 2007, when he went 19-9 with a 3.01 ERA.

The Nationals are also looking for quality relievers, and they have expressed interest in left-handers Mike Gonzalez and Billy Wagner, according to published reports.

This past season, Washington had the worst bullpen in the Major Leagues, going 24-39 with a 5.09 ERA and 33 saves. Gonzalez is a left-hander who can be a setup man and a closer.

Gonzalez played for the Braves in 2009 and had one of his best seasons, appearing in 80 games, recording a 2.92 ERA with 10 saves and 90 strikeouts. If he joins the Nats, Gonzalez would most likely share the closer's role with right-hander Mike MacDougal, who is recovering from right hip surgery. MacDougal is expected to be ready for Spring Training.

Reports have surfaced that the Nationals have inquired about Wagner, who grew up in Virginia. The team had interest in Wagner after the 2005 season, but he decided to sign with the Mets.

Washington also has five free agents of its own on the market -- Hernandez, catcher Josh Bard, left-hander Ron Villone, first baseman Dmitri Young and outfielder Austin Kearns. Of the five, Villone has a chance to come back. He has a fan in manager Jim Riggleman.

The skipper called the reliever a leader by example, because he wants to pitch on a regular basis and watches the game from the dugout after completing his work on the mound. Villone pitched in 63 games and had a 4.25 ERA.

"Ronnie sets a great example," Riggleman said in August. "He takes the ball more than anybody. He is 39 years old, but he is willing to pitch every day, which I think says a lot. It indicates to some other pitchers that this guy has been around a long time."

Villone watches from the dugout because, he said, he still has a lot to learn when it comes to the game.

"When you are in the bullpen, it's not easy to see things," Villone said. "I want to be part of the game. If I can't be in the game, I want to be as close to the game as possible. I'm 39. I'm learning every day."

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