In this era of expansion, no pitcher is ever too old or too arm-worn not to get one more chance.  The Nationals have reportedly signed 44-year-old Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez to a minor-league contract.

El Duque has pitched all of 26.2 minor league innings the last two seasons combined, but in fairness, he’s pitched pretty well (30 Ks and great ratios).  It will interesting to see if he has enough left to work his way back up to the majors.

I also learned today that former Giant Armando Benitez was recently signed by the Marlins and has made three appearances for their AAA club, the New Orleans Zephyrs. 

He has yet to allow a run, but he’s given up four hits and two walks in only three innings pitched.

Armando made seven AAA appearances last year, and in 2008 he made eight appearances at the major level and another eight appearances in the minors. lists Armando at the same 260 pounds he was when he last pitched in the majors, but I wouldn’t be surprised if his current weight is really closer to 300 pounds. He was a big boy who always had a hard time getting a handle on his weight.

The A’s signed another former Giant, Boof Bonser, to a minor-league deal. 

Bonser never actually pitched for the Giants, but they drafted him in the first round in 2000 and brought him along until he was sent to the Minnesota Twins as part of the disastrous (for the Giants) Joe Nathan et al for AJ Pierzynski trade in November 2003.

Bonser has only thrown 35.3 professional innings since the injury that ended his 2008 season, but he’s still only 28 years old, so he’s still got a chance of making a comeback.

Former Cubs ace Mark Prior performed a workout for major league scouts two days ago.  Prior hasn’t thrown a professional inning anywhere since 2006, but he’s still only 29 years old.

However, reports that a “veteran major league scout” described Prior’s workout as “just all right.” 

Hardly a ringing endorsement for Prior’s latest come-back effort.  However, Prior’s agent says at least one team is interested after Prior hit 90 mph on the radar gun.

Elijah Dukes has finally surfaced.  He has reportedly signed a deal to play for the Newark Bears of the Independent A Atlantic League, where he will play with other noted former major leaguers Carl Everett and Daryle Ward.

This is Everett’s fourth year in the Atlantic League since last playing in the majors in 2006. 

He obviously must just enjoy playing baseball, because he’s almost certainly making somewhere between $15,000 and $30,000 a year playing in the Atlantic League.  Carl is now 39.

This is Daryle Ward’s first full season in the Atlantic League.  He played eight games for Newark last year after being released by two AAA clubs. 

Ward didn’t play badly at AAA, but he certainly wasn’t great, and at age 35 this year, it’s extremely unlikely he’ll recapture his youth at any time in the future.

The only previous rumor about Elijah Dukes I’ve heard since he was released by the Nationals in mid-March was that he had a deal to play for the Tabasco Olmecas of the Mexican League but failed to show up by the reporting date in early May.

I can’t say I blame Dukes for backing out of playing for a Mexican team.  Particularly if you are not playing for a team based in Mexico City, it’s big step down for a former major leaguer to play south of the border. 

Unlike playing in Japan, which can also be a big culture shock, the salaries in Mexico probably aren’t much better than playing in the Atlantic League.

The Newark Bears have the Atlantic League’s worst record about halfway through their season.  We’ll see if Dukes can give them a boost and make it back to a major league organization in the process.  There aren’t many other places left to go if you can’t hack it in the Atlantic League.

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