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Nationals lock up Armas, Ortiz

Nationals lock up Armas, Ortiz

In desperate need of starting pitching, the Nationals signed right-handers Tony Armas Jr. and Ramon Ortiz to one-year contracts on Thursday. Armas will make $2.1 million, while Ortiz will earn $2.5 million.

Both pitchers are expected to compete with right-hander Ryan Drese for two spots in the rotation. Livan Hernandez, John Patterson and Brian Lawrence already have three of the spots locked up.

Armas, 27, has been a member of the Nationals/Expos organization since late 1997, when the team acquired him from the Red Sox in the Pedro Martinez trade. He is 39-48 with a 4.32 ERA in seven big-league seasons.

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Armas had an injury-plagued season in 2005. He had shoulder problems for the third year in a row and had surgery at the end of September. According to general manager Jim Bowden, Dr. Tim Kremchek, who performed the surgery, believes that Armas' shoulder problems are behind him and the hurler could finally reach his potential.

"Armas is a guy that is capable of winning 15 games. We don't want him to reach his potential somewhere else," Bowden said

Armas has already pitched in two games in the Venezuela Winter League this offseason. He has given up three runs in six innings for Caracas. Armas is expected to see limited action during the rest of the Winter League season.

"Jim is going to look like a superstar on this one. He did his homework on Armas," Kremchek said. "Tony needed arthroscopic surgery because he had some lingering problems in the shoulder."

Armas filed for free agency after the '05 season, but the Nationals offered him arbitration on Dec. 7 before Armas declined to go that route last week. The National had until Jan. 8 to retain his services. If both parties weren't able to reach an agreement by that date, Armas couldn't sign with the Nationals until May 1.

Ortiz is 68-60 with a 4.72 ERA in 187 games, spanning seven big-league seasons. Last season, Ortiz went 9-11 with a 5.36 ERA in 30 starts for the Reds. Ortiz produced 13 quality starts, including quality starts in 10 of his last 16 appearances. He was the victim of a team-high four blown saves.

Ortiz also gave up 34 home runs, but the Nationals believe that number will be reduced because of spacious Robert F. Kennedy Stadium. According to Bowden, Jose Rijo, the special assistant to the general manager, is currently working with Ortiz on his pitching mechanics in the Dominican Republic.

Ortiz is known for his time with the Angels from 1999 to 2004. His best years occurred from 2001 to 2003, in which he won a combined 44 games. Ortiz was demoted to the bullpen during his last season in Anaheim.

"The Angels' pitching staff got so deep that they put him in the bullpen, and he didn't like being there," Bowden said. "Ortiz pitched well in the second half last year, but Jose Rijo feels that he can get him back to where he was with the Angels."

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

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