- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2006

Well, we’re just about ready to wind things down in Viera, Fla., and make the long trek back north for Opening Day. And what a spring it has been. Seriously, didn’t it feel like some kind of major story was breaking every day for the last six weeks?

It all culminated last week with the soap opera some have decided to start calling “As the Alfonso Turns.” And based on Soriano’s wild afternoon yesterday — he misplayed a fly ball in the top of the first, then crushed a home run leading off the bottom of the inning — this saga doesn’t figure to go away anytime soon.

In the meantime, we’ll do our best to answers your queries about the never-dull, always-unpredictable Washington Nationals. Keep those questions coming to natsmailbag@washingtontimes.com.

Q: What do you make of Ryan Zimmerman’s team-leading six errors? He’s proved in the past that he’s an amazing fielder, but the Scott Rolen comparisons aren’t really holding up lately. Dustin Chaffee

A: Zimmerman’s glove troubles certainly are troubling, Dustin, especially when you consider that defense is why he’s in the big leagues at age 21 in the first place.

Perhaps more troubling, though, was Zimmerman’s answer Saturday when he was asked about the miscues: “I’m ready to get the ones that count. I shouldn’t say that, because I’m lucky to be here. But it gets a little monotonous here.”

Now, no one’s questioning the validity of Zimmerman’s statement, but perhaps the rookie could have said it a little differently. Frank Robinson thought so and made a point to speak with Zimmerman before yesterday’s game about it.

So is there reason to be concerned about the kid? At this point, no. Let’s wait and see how he responds once the red light goes on next Monday. If the gaffes are still there two weeks into the season, then maybe it’s time to worry.

Q: You would think that a team that sold more than 2.7 million seats would want to continue the momentum with some kind of advertising. Although they probably do not have millions of ad dollars handy, how come there are no ads, anywhere? Do they have a marketing department? Gregory Herndon

A: The Nationals’ presence in the advertising market is minimal, to say the least. Of course, that probably has something to do with the limited budget under the rule of Major League Baseball. And it probably has something to do with the current administration assuming new ownership will be named shortly and will be spending its own money on advertising.

That said, it’s my understanding that the club’s new marketing campaign, with the slogan “Nationals Baseball: Make it Your Pastime,” recently has been launched on TV, radio and in print.

Needless to say, one of the new owner’s first objectives needs to involve reaching out to the public in an attempt to win over more fans.

Q: What is your assessment of the bullpen? On Thursday, the bases became overcrowded, but for the O’s incompetence they couldn’t score. — George Beattie

A: The Nationals’ bullpen clearly was the club’s strength a year ago. And though they have taken some hits since last fall (Hector Carrasco to free agency, Luis Ayala to injury), it should be a top unit again.

Chad Cordero and Gary Majewski are just coming into their own, and as long as they’re not overworked, they should be fine. Joey Eischen and Mike Stanton are going to give everything they’ve got from the left side. And Frank Robinson has plenty of faith in long man Jon Rauch.

The key will be Felix Rodriguez. One of the top setup men in baseball as recently as two years ago, he appears to be healthy and back in form. He will be asked to take on a major role this year.

Q: Is Ryan Church going to play center field? — Mike Feyder

A: It’s looking that way, Mike. As much as the Nationals would like Brandon Watson to be their leadoff man, he just hasn’t blown them away with his performance this spring. There’s still a week to go, so things could change, but it’s looking like Watson will open the season at Class AAA New Orleans to get some more seasoning. That means the center field job probably will be Church’s, with some assistance from Marlon Byrd.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To

submit a question, go to the Sports Page

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