VIERA, Fla. -- Right-hander Luis Ayala arrived at Space Coast Stadium on Wednesday, and it was as though he'd never left the organization after the 2008 season. There he was in the locker room, hugging shortstop Ian Desmond and having a conversation with clubhouse manager Mike Wallace.
Ayala remembers when Desmond was a rookie in 2005 and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman was called up to the big leagues in September of that season.
Last week, Ayala signed a Minor League deal to return to Washington after a five-year absence. He had similar offers from the Phillies and Tigers, but he decided to go with the Nationals because he feels they have the best chance to win. If Ayala makes the team out of Spring Training, he will earn $1 million, plus incentives.
"I had three or four options," Ayala said. "I made the decision because I love this organization. [The Nationals] gave me the opportunity to play in the big leagues. I have a lot of friends. I'm also happy to be part of the Nationals, especially at this time of my career."
Ayala became the second player from the 2005 squad to reunite with the organization, following Jamey Carroll, who signed a Minor League deal in January.
Ayala played with the Nats/Expos from 2003-08, and he was one of the team's most reliable relievers. In fact, former manager Frank Robinson once called Ayala his good-luck charm because he won crucial games. Ayala was used mostly as a setup man until he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2006.
Over the past three years, Ayala played for the Yankees, Orioles and Braves, and he recorded a respectable 2.58 ERA during that span, but he had a tough time finding a Major League job this offseason.
Last year, while playing for Atlanta, it was reported that Ayala missed time because of anxiety disorder, but Ayala said the issue was a virus. He told reporters last year that a bacterial infection formed near his stomach and caused him to lose eight pounds.
Ayala feels the report about the anxiety disorder prevented him from getting a Major League deal.
"I tried to fix [the report] when it happened," he said. "I can prove that I had bacteria. ... But that's in the past. I'm glad to be with [the Nationals], which is my old team. I want to be a National."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less