The Washington Times - March 14, 2011, 10:35AM

VIERA, Fla. — In his third spring training with the Nationals, infielder Chris Marrero has impressed long enough to stick around past the halfway point of the spring schedule.

He’s in the lineup today at first base for the Nationals 1:05 p.m. game with the Tigers today at Space Coast Stadium, the 10th appearance of the spring for the 22-year-old.

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“He’s really making a statement that he’s going to be a big league player,” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman.

It is the longest spring training look Marrero, the Nationals first-round pick in 2006, has gotten in major league camp.

Marrero, who entered the 2008 season as the Nationals No. 1 ranked prospect by Baseball America, has been slow to ascend through the system. He’s switched positions — from third base to outfield to first base — and struggled through injuries (a broken leg and torn ankle ligaments that limited him to just 70 games in 2008).

But he produced an All-Star season at Double-A Harrisburg in 2010 with a .294 average, 18 homers and 82 RBI, and has made a few slight adjustments to his batting stance that have helped him produce seven hits in 16 at-bats this spring.

Marrero will most likely start his fifth year in the organization back at Double-A Harrisburg or Triple-A Syracuse, but he’s made an impression on Riggleman.

“Double-A baseball is a real challenge,” Riggleman said. “Double-A is tough — and he was an All-Star first baseman there and put up good numbers on a good ballclub.

“He’s going to play in the big leagues.”

Bixler still in infield mix: Batting .444 in his third straight spring training with a new team, Riggleman said today that non-roster invitee Brian Bixler is “still in the mix” to earn a bench spot.

Bixler, who played in the Pirates organization for most of his career, was traded to Washington last year and hit .340 in 27 games with Triple-A Syracuse. He is competing with Alberto Gonzalez, along with veterans Alex Cora and Jerry Hairston Jr. for a spot, so he’s up against some strong experience and track records in the game.

Nevertheless, despite having played in just 68 total major league games, he’s forced the Nationals to keep him around and he’s still got a shot at earning a spot.

“The numbers work against him and I’m sure he knows that, but he’s really played well,” Riggleman said. “It’s very comforting to know that and we’ve kept him in camp here because he’s really played so good. He keeps making plays and keeps swinging the bat really good so he’s still in the mix.”

Here’s are the lineups for the Nationals game vs. Detroit:

Nationals

Nyjer Morgan CF
Ian Desmond SS
Jayson Werth RF
Ryan Zimmerman 3B
Michael Morse LF
Jerry Hairston Jr. 2B
Ivan Rodriguez C
Chris Marrero 1B
Jason Marquis P

Tigers

Will Rhymes 2B
Andy Dirks CF
Magglio Ordonez RF
Brennan Boesch LF
Victor Martinez C
Jhonny Peralta SS
Don Kelly 3B
Ryan Strieby 1B
Cale Iorg DH
— Rick Porcello P