Familiar faces in a new place

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Good afternoon once again from Chase Field in Phoenix, where the Nats and D’backs will be engaged later in the odd 5:10 p.m. local time ballgame. Between the strange start time and the three-hour difference between here and D.C. (in the summer, of course; it’s only two hours behind in the winter) my internal clock is completely thrown off right now. All I know is, tonight’s game starts at 8:10 p.m. on the East Coast, so you should be able to read about this one in tomorrow morning’s paper (unlike the last three games, which all ended far too late for your friendly hard-copy edition of the Times).

First, though, I wanted to mention something else from last night’s game — a 5-4 Nats win — that I didn’t squeeze in anywhere else: The high number of ex-Nats who were here. Get a load of all this…

FELIPE LOPEZ: The erratic second baseman, a bust in D.C. both because of his play and his attitude, has resurrected himself here in Arizona. He had three hits, a stolen base and some nice defensive plays in last night’s game and is now batting .316 for the season. I’m sure that has Nats fans scratching their heads in disbelief. Here’s the difference: Lopez is happy now, for whatever reason. He was miserable the last two years in Washington, for whatever reason. He blames it on the Nats, insisting they jerked him around. The Nats totally refute that and say they bent over backwords for a guy who gave up on them, dogged it in the field and was a disruptive presence in the clubhouse. If you’re a Nats fan, don’t be upset that he’s gone. This team is better off without him, especially with Anderson Hernandez doing just fine at second base.

JON RAUCH: The former Nats reliever is not enjoying nearly as much success as Lopez in his new digs. He’s got an 8.25 ERA in 15 games and is essentially pitching in mop-up situations now (though he did pitch the seventh inning of a close game last night, gave up three hits but avoided allowing a run to score). The Diamondbacks aren’t especially happy with Rauch, especially considering they’ve already picked up his $2.9 million option for next season. I’m told from some of the locals that he hasn’t exactly been a welcome presence in the Arizona clubhouse, either. Again, I know the Nats have had their bullpen woes this year, but I don’t think Rauch’s presence would have been a positive thing.

JOSH WHITESELL: Nats fans may not remember this guy, but he was a fairly decent prospect in their system who played well for Class AA Harrisburg in 2007 and figured to become one of the organization’s top prospects at first base. But former GM Jim Bowden was never a fan, didn’t think Whitesell had enough thump (or a decent glove) for a first baseman and placed him on waivers last March. Whitesell was claimed by Arizona on March 14 (a move that opened a roster spot for the Nats to add Ray King), had a huge season for their Class AAA Tucson club and is now their starting first baseman. Not that Whitesell really had a future in D.C., but as one Nats official pointed out yesterday, wouldn’t it have been nice to have him available last season when Nick Johnson and Dmitri Young were hurt and Manny Acta was forced to play Ronnie Belliard and Paul Lo Duca at first base?

CHAD CORDERO: Yes, the former Nats closer was in the house last night. Ran into him outside the clubhouse after the game, where he was waiting to say hi to a few guys. “Chief” has been working out at the Mariners’ complex in nearby Peoria, still working his way back from last year’s shoulder surgery. He’s making good progress, threw an inning in an extended spring game yesterday and says his arm feels “great.” Cordero is on a minor-league deal with Seattle, but if all continues to go well, he’s expected to be in their big-league bullpen by July.

RAY KING: Speaking of the portly lefty, he was at last night’s game, sitting in the stands right behind the Nats dugout. King hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since Washington dumped him last April, but he’s still itching to pitch and has been calling around to teams to see if there’s any interest. So far, there hasn’t been, so he’s playing Mr. Mom at home here in Scottsdale, taking care of his kids and trying to keep busy.

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Mark Zuckerman

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