- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 5, 2006

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Here’s the Jose Vidro plan: Get the Washington Nationals’ second baseman three at-bats a game without playing him too much and wearing out his surgically repaired right knee.

Yesterday, in his first spring training game, Vidro went 1-for-3 in six innings during a split-squad game against the New York Mets. In the field, Vidro played six innings, and his knee looked sound turning a nifty 6-4-3 double play that ended the third inning.

“He was fine,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. “In his first game, he swung the bat decently and was fine in the field.”

Mets left fielder Xavier Nady robbed Vidro of what looked like a sure base hit in the third inning when he made a diving shoestring catch of Vidro’s opposite-field line drive. In the sixth inning of yesterday’s 5-4 loss to the Mets, Vidro — who batted second in the order yesterday — singled through the hole at short for his only hit of the game.

Robinson plans to play the three-time All-Star in three consecutive games, then rest him. Robinson didn’t plan to play Vidro six innings yesterday, but that was the only way to get Vidro his requisite three at-bats.

“Hopefully, he’ll get three at-bats in a shorter period of time hitting at the top of the lineup,” Robinson said.

Utility man Damian Jackson replaced Vidro at second in the bottom of the sixth.

“He was moving around good out there on the field,” Robinson said. “We have no concerns about his knee, but you never know until you get out there.”

Zimmerman’s first homer

Rookie Ryan Zimmerman belted his first home run at the big league level — albeit in the spring — to lead off the eighth inning.

He hit a fastball from Mets right-handed reliever Jeremy Hill over Tradition Field’s left-field fence. Zimmerman wasn’t interested in keeping the ball. He said he’ll wait until his first regular-season home run.

“I was looking fastball the whole at-bat and I got one,” Zimmerman said. “It felt really good. Anytime you hit a ball like that, it feels pretty good. I’m trying to hit doubles gap to gap and if I make a mistake and hit one like that, so be it.”

The leadoff man

So far, so good. Brandon Watson’s quest to win the Nationals’ leadoff and the starting center field job is off to a good start.

After two spring training games, Watson is showing encouraging signs he can be an effective leadoff hitter. Watson is hitting .800 with an on-base percentage of .833. Watson has four hits in five at-bats.

“He now seems to be able to understand what we need from him and what I need from him and what he has to do,” Robinson said. “He’s going out and trying to do those things and is having success in some of those things.”

Watson went hitless in four at-bats against the Kia Tigers, a Korean team, in the Nationals’ first exhibition on Wednesday, but successfully got on base in the next two spring training games.

Watson, who is the godson of former major leaguer Eric Davis, made a spectacular big-league debut last season after getting called up from Class AAA New Orleans for an Aug.9 game against the Houston Astros. Watson went 2-for-5 with a home runs, double, one RBI and two runs.

However, he struggled after that going 1-for-14 with two walks in his next four games before being optioned back to New Orleans, where he hit .355 with 15 doubles, one homer, and 25 RBI in 88 games for the Zephyrs. One of Watson’s two hits against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday was a drag bunt.

“Those are the things that we talked to him a little bit last year, but he didn’t do those things,” Robinson said. “Now, he seems to be doing them and having success.”

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