Originally created 12/16/05

Former USC Aiken pitcher signs deal with Pittsburgh



PITTSBURGH - Right-handed reliever Roberto Hernandez, who attended USC Aiken, finalized his $2.75 million, one-year contract Thursday with the Pittsburgh Pirates after passing a physical.

The 41-year-old Hernandez adds a veteran's presence to a mostly young Pirates bullpen after going 8-6 with a 2.58 ERA and four saves in 67 games with the New York Mets last season.

Hernandez said he was offered a contract by the New York Yankees, but chose the Pirates because he expects to pitch in more late-inning situations with them. He has 324 career saves but has not been a closer since 2002.

Hernandez and Salomon Torres will be the top right-handers in the Pirates' bullpen and will complement left- handers Damaso Marte, John Grabow and Mike Gonzalez. Gonzalez is expected to get the first shot to be the closer despite having only four career saves, and Hernandez believes he can fill that role if necessary.

After losing 95 games last season, the Pirates reconfigured their bullpen by dropping right-handers Jose Mesa, their former closer; Brian Meadows and Rick White.

Hernandez's contract includes bonuses of $100,000 each for 35, 40, 45, 50 and 55 games finished and $25,000 for making the All-Star team.

NATIONALS: Frank Robinson will return for a fifth season as manager of the team.

Robinson, who turned 70 in August, was re-signed after two months of off-season limbo while the team's sale and stadium deals continued to be negotiated. With the team still unsold and spring training two months away, general manager Jim Bowden began talks last week to bring back Robinson for another season.

Robinson was hired by Major League Baseball to manage the Montreal Expos after the franchise was bought by the other 29 teams in 2002. Robinson initially expected to hold the job for one year while the team was eliminated, but instead the franchise was moved to Washington at the end of last year.

Robinson is 314-334 with the Expos/Nationals, including 81-81 this year.

The Nationals also announced that bench coach Eddie Rodriguez and pitching coach Randy St. Claire will be retained.

Hitting coach Tom McCraw, first-base coach Don Buford, bullpen coach Bob Natal and third-base coach Dave Huppert will not return.

TWINS: Minnesota agreed to a one-year contract with two-time All-Star third baseman Tony Batista, filling another need in their lineup.

Batista played last season in Japan, batting .263 in 559 at-bats with 27 homers and 90 RBI for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in the Pacific League. The 32-year-old Batista has eight-plus years of major league experience, last playing with Montreal in 2004.

He has a career average of .251 with 214 homers, also playing for Oakland, Arizona, Toronto and Baltimore.

Batista's best season came in 2000, when he hit .263 with 41 homers, 114 RBI and 96 runs in 620 at-bats for the Blue Jays.