- The Washington Times - Monday, March 6, 2006

Quite an eventful week down here in Viera, Fla. Brian Lawrence’s surgery revealed both a torn labrum and rotator cuff. Alfonso Soriano showed up for a couple of days, didn’t play left field and then left for three weeks of the World Baseball Classic. Jose Guillen was told he would be out three months with a wrist

injury … until the next day, when it was changed to one week. We’re just praying this week’s Nationals Mailbag still will be accurate by the time you all read it.

Keep those questions coming, and remember, please include your full name and location.

Q: My question is simply this: Would Mr. Soriano consider playing shortstop? Rationale: We need a hard-hitting shortstop, and Cristian Guzman may not be any better than last year. At least the idea may raise some interest in different areas. — Carl Grumbine, White Plains, Md.

Q: With all the craziness about playing two second basemen and maybe one left fielder (and maybe none), has anyone thought of moving Jose Vidro to short instead of Guzman and letting Alfonso stay at second? — Gary Rosenthal

A: Since these two questions are somewhat related, we will answer them together.

First things first: While those are both intriguing suggestions, there is zero chance of either happening. Yes, Soriano originally came up with the Yankees as a shortstop, but he would be even more of a defensive liability there than at second base (where he’s committed 106 errors in 762 career games). There’s a reason the Nationals (and other clubs) believe Soriano is best-suited for the outfield.

As for Vidro, the guy has been playing second base regularly in the majors for eight years and, more importantly, is coming off two years of knee injuries. He simply doesn’t have the range anymore to play shortstop.

Q: What surprises me the most about the Nationals is Jim Bowden’s effort to act like the Nationals can win a championship now. And in doing so, slight the development of nearly every young player in the system to sign players over 30, near the end of their careers. I just don’t understand the reasoning. Why not build the team for a few years down the line? Ryan Church, Brendan Harris and Larry Broadway are younger players who Bowden just doesn’t want to give a fair chance. Does he actually have a plan? — Jeffrey Saffelle

A: Jeffrey raises an interesting question: Are the Nationals more interested in trying to win as many games as they can now than in trying to build a team capable of long-term success?

I’d argue they’re doing a little of both. Let’s not forget that Ryan Zimmerman will be the everyday third baseman at age 21, either Brandon Watson (a rookie) or Ryan Church (a second-year player) will be the starting center fielder and the bullpen could include the likes of Chad Cordero, Gary Majewski and Jason Bergmann. So it’s not like the Nationals aren’t playing anyone under 30.

That said, Bowden did make a concerted effort this winter to sign veteran players to bolster his starting rotation and his bench, the kind of moves you make if you’re trying to squeeze out as many wins as possible. Is there anything wrong with that? No, certainly not when you don’t even know whether you will have a job a year from now when the new owner is (hopefully) in place.

But I will say this: There are some within this organization who wish a little more attention was being placed on the club’s long-term welfare than on the here-and-now.

Q: What month do you realistically expect MLB to announce a new owner for the Nationals? — Alonzo Williams

A: Martebuvember.

Q: Given that top prospect Michael Hinckley was targeted for a possible shot for the rotation last year before he came up with his “tired arm” and subsequent shoulder problem, do you see any realistic chance he could become part of the mix this year now that Brian Lawrence has all but been declared out for the season? I know Frank Robinson doesn’t exactly like to use rookies, but do you think a healthy Hinckley would be a better option than some of the other retreads available? — Greg Duva, Clinton Hill, N.Y.

A: Greg, you’re right that the Nationals were willing to consider Hinckley for the rotation last spring. But it didn’t take long to realize he just wasn’t ready for the big leagues. And after a season of injuries and some other ups and downs, he’s still not there yet. Give Hinckley some more time — he’s only 23, and he has yet to spend a day at Class AAA. His time will come.

Q: I live in Annapolis. We don’t get Channel 20 here, so we are entirely shut out [of the Nationals on TV]. What are the chances of any change in this year’s arrangement? How can they ignore this entire market? — Bill Dempsey, Edgewater, Md.

A: It is indeed a farce that so few Nationals games are available to so few TV viewers in the D.C. area, and you’re not alone in Anne Arundel County, Bill. Fans in Howard County don’t get Channel 20, either. Sadly, there’s not much you folks can do about the situation other than switch from cable to DirecTV or pray for the day when MASN is available on all the major systems.

If there’s any good to come out of the atrocious TV plan, perhaps the folks at Comcast and MASN will realize just how much demand there is for more games on the air, and that will pressure the two sides to come to an agreement faster. But don’t hold your breath.

Q: I “retired” from being a baseball fan when the Senators left town in 1971, then returned this past year. One difference I’ve noticed between then and now is that pitchers appear to be so much more fragile than they were 35 years ago. And certainly more so than in the days of Johnson and Mathewson, when complete games were the norm rather than the exception. What changed? — Michael Lewis

A: That’s a great question, Michael, and one I’ve often wondered about myself. I think a couple of things have changed over the years when it comes to major league pitchers.

First of all, they’re no longer developed to pitch 300 innings a season or nine innings a night. They start them out on a five-day rotation as soon as they’re drafted, and they watch their pitch counts religiously in the minor leagues. So by the time they reach the big leagues, few pitchers have the physical strength (or the mental approach) necessary to put up those astounding inning totals from the old days.

On top of that, I think players’ tolerances for pain have changed dramatically over the years. These days, a pitcher goes on the disabled list at the first sign of shoulder or elbow pain. You think Bob Gibson did that? Of course, medical science has improved tremendously, too. Chances are, there were a lot of guys pitching with torn labrums and rotator cuffs and elbow ligaments that we never knew about.

Q: I am interested in following the development of shortstop Ian Desmond. Is he making an impact this spring? Any chance that he will stick, or is he headed to Class AA for more seasoning? — Doug Jones

A: Doug, Desmond will be headed to Class AA no matter what he does this spring. He certainly got some notice last spring with a couple of sparkling plays in the field, and he’s getting some playing time this year, but he’s a raw talent who needs some serious refining. He will open the season at Harrisburg, teaming up with second baseman Kory Casto (the organization’s reigning player of the year) as the Nationals’ double-play combination of the future.

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