Obama ready to throw centennial first pitch

Barack Obama will throw out the ceremonial first ball at the Washington Nationals' opener, marking the 100th anniversary of a presidential pitch to start the season.

William Howard Taft first did it on April 14, 1910. This will be the 48th time a president has made an opening-day pitch in the nation’s capital.

The Nationals open at home against the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday.

Obama will have an experienced target, too: When he played in Texas, new Nationals catcher Ivan Rodriguez, a 14-time All-Star, twice caught ceremonial pitches from President George W. Bush.

“He’s a great guy, a great president, a sports fan,” Rodriguez said. “It’s going to be a great day.”

This will be the first time President Obama attends a game at Nationals Park.

Branyan to open in minors

An optimistic Russell Branyan is eager to take the field in a Cleveland Indians uniform.

Branyan, who had career highs of 31 homers and 76 RBI last season for the Mariners, is set to be the designated hitter in a minor league game today. Depending on how he feels after that test, he could play first base Wednesday.

Signed to a one-year, $2 million contract on Feb. 23, the 34-year-old slugger has been sidelined with a herniated disc in his back and will open the season on the disabled list. Rookie Matt LaPorta will play first base when the Indians open against the White Sox in Chicago on Monday.

Short hops

Matt Cain and the San Francisco Giants agreed to a $27.25 million, three-year contract, while closer Brian Wilson accepted a $15 million, two-year extension through 2012. Left-hander Jeremy Affeldt accepted a one-year extension through 2011 that adds $5.5 million in new money. … Nationals manager Jim Riggleman says the team has settled on four-fifths of its starting rotation, with 1997 World Series MVP Livan Hernandez and Craig Stammen earning spots along with opening day starter John Lannan and Jason Marquis. Stammen will be the team’s No. 3 starter, and Hernandez earned the fourth spot after signing a minor league contract in February. … The Pittsburgh Pirates removed former starting right fielder Brandon Moss from their 40-man roster and now have 10 days to trade, release or waive him. Moss, a former Red Sox prospect acquired in the Jason Bay trade in July 2008, hit .081 this spring. … Alberto Callaspo may not be ready for the Kansas City Royals opener Monday because of an irritation in his right side. … Right-hander Chad Gaudin will get $700,000 under his one-year contract with Oakland with a potential to earn $500,000 more in bonuses. Gaudin was released Thursday by the Yankees after losing out to Phil Hughes for the No. 5 slot in the team’s rotation.