Belliard still out, Dukes starting in RF

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It’s technically Opening Night here at Turner Field, though you’d hardly know it from wandering around the place. As Charlie Slowes pointed out earlier: “How can you have an Opening Night without any bunting?” True enough. There’s nothing hanging from the facades, there’s nothing special noting that this night is not like all other nights (aside from the MLB “Opening Week” logo on the baselines.

Not that the Nats care much. They already experienced an Opening Day in Miami on Monday, and they’ll have their own home opener next Monday in D.C. This is just a pit stop along the way.

Anyways, some news and notes to report as the skies become ever so more menacing…

— Ronnie Belliard is not in the lineup, still bothered by a back injury he re-aggravated during Wednesday’s game at Florida. Belliard says he’s feeling better but isn’t sure whether he feels well enough to pinch-hit tonight if called upon. Officially, his status is day-to-day. Willie Harris gets the start at second base in his place.

— Speaking of injured second basemen, Anderson Hernandez played five innings today in an intrasquad game in Viera. He got two at-bats and tripled in one of them. Hernandez, on the DL with a hamstring strain, is eligible to return tomorrow, but he remains several days (if not a week) away. The Nats would like him to play seven innings, then nine innings in a game, and they’d also like to send him to one of the minor-league affiliates for a brief rehab assignment. Doesn’t sound like the team is in a rush to get him back, perhaps in part because his return will require someone else to come off the roster.

— Elijah Dukes gets the start tonight in right field, with Austin Kearns getting his first game off. This is all part of the continual revolving door Manny Acta will be using in his outfield and at first base as long as he’s got six guys vying for four starting spots. Acta’s reasoning for today’s switch: 1) He wants to get Dukes some at-bats, and 2) Kearns has some ugly career numbers against Derek Lowe (2-for-17).

— Weather update: It’s gotten a lot darker in the last hour but no rain yet. Forecast here seems to be that there will be a strong system coming through sometime during the middle of the game (perhaps between 8:30-9:00). The belief is that the storm will be quick, so the delay shouldn’t be too long. Let’s hope.

With that, here are tonight’s lineups…

NATIONALS

CF Lastings Milledge

SS Cristian Guzman

3B Ryan Zimmerman

LF Adam Dunn

1B Nick Johnson

RF Elijah Dukes

C Jesus Flores

2B Willie Harris

P Shairon Martis

BRAVES

2B Kelly Johnson

SS Yunel Escobar

3B Chipper Jones

C Brian McCann

1B Casey Kotchman

RF Jeff Francoeur

LF Matt Diaz

CF Jordan Schafer

P Derek Lowe

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Mark Zuckerman

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