- The Washington Times - Monday, April 17, 2006

MIAMI — If Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson was asked at the end of spring training to name his biggest concern about this club, he might have said defense.

Two weeks later, Robinson has plenty of concerns. Defense, however, is not among them.

The Nationals’ steady glovework has been one of their few bright spots so far. Entering yesterday’s game against the Florida Marlins, they had committed only seven errors in 12 games.

That’s a stark contrast to the 48 errors Washington committed in 33 exhibition games.

“A lot of things in spring training you tend to overreact to,” Robinson said. “But I thought the lack of defense and how long it went on, it was alarming to me. It was not something that I would have been like, ‘OK, the season’s starting, let’s go play baseball.’”

Robinson did say he’s still not totally satisfied with his team’s defensive play, citing several “mental mistakes” that have been made. Those have been few and far between, though.

Perhaps most impressive has been rookie third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who went through a rough stretch in the field in March but has lived up to his Gold Glove-caliber reputation so far in April.

“Spring training is totally different from the regular season,” Zimmerman said. “Spring training, you’re there to get into shape and to get ready. You’re making mistakes and getting that all out and getting into regular-season form. I think we’ve played real good defense [the last two weeks].”

Soriano improving

Another sign of the Nationals’ improved defense: Robinson let Alfonso Soriano remain in left field for all of Saturday night’s 2-1 win over the Marlins.

A week ago in Houston, Robinson brought in a defensive replacement for Soriano with Washington up three runs in the seventh inning. He said the decision to leave Soriano in Saturday night was in part because of the lack of alternatives but also said his new left fielder is getting better.

Soriano has also made some strides at the plate, even though he’s been forced to hit leadoff lately. He was back atop the lineup yesterday for the third time in four days, and though Robinson insists this won’t be a permanent move, he has no choice at the moment.

“I don’t like him up there,” Robinson said. “We didn’t get him to hit leadoff. But right now, we’re struggling. We need everything we can get.”

Injury update

Jose Guillen and Jose Vidro were each held out of the Nationals’ lineup again yesterday, but Robinson remains hopeful both will be ready to return tomorrow in Philadelphia.

Guillen, who strained an oblique muscle during batting practice before Friday’s game, took 30 swings in the cage yesterday and said he was feeling better.

Vidro, who felt tightness in his left hamstring Friday night, pinch-hit in the eighth inning and drove in the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly.

Reliever Jon Rauch was not available yesterday because of a sore right shoulder and knee. Robinson believes he’ll be ready tomorrow.

Shortstop Royce Clayton was hit by a pitch in the sixth inning and had to leave the game. He was diagnosed with a left arm contusion but said he thinks he’ll be ready to play tomorrow.

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