- The Washington Times - Friday, September 1, 2006

Now that Alfonso Soriano has shown how it’s done, his Washington Nationals teammates aren’t complaining about RFK Stadium’s cavernous dimensions.

That could be because RFK’s most vocal critic — outfielder Jose Guillen — is in Miami recuperating from Tommy John surgery. Guillen led the Nationals last season with 24 homers, but hit just three at RFK.

After yielding the second fewest home runs in the majors last season, the ballpark certainly has seen its fair share of homers this year.

Through last night’s 6-5 win against the Philadelphia Phillies, 130 home runs had been hit this season at RFK, opposed to 112 all of last year.

Soriano, who has 43 homers, is a big reason for the home run increase at RFK. Twenty-three of Soriano’s homers have occurred on East Capitol Street.

“When I got traded, a lot of people — the media — called me and they said I wouldn’t have a very good year because of the ballpark here isn’t going to help me out because it’s big,” Soriano said. “I think I’m having the best year of my seven years in the league.”

With 29 games — including 18 at home — left this season, Soriano is on pace to hit a career-high of 52 home runs. There is a good possibility Soriano could become the first 50/40 man in baseball history. Soriano needs to swipe just six more bases this season to become just the fourth man to reach 40/40 status, joining Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco and Alex Rodriguez.

Opponents have belted more homers (69) in the 45-year-old stadium this year than the Nationals (61). Last year, Nationals manager Frank Robinson insisted RFK eventually would surrender home runs more frequently. Robinson, who played many games in RFK as a member of the Baltimore Orioles, said once the weather got hot fans would see balls clear RFK’s deep fences.

“The conditions at different times of the year are warmer. The warm weather was earlier this year than it was last year,” said Robinson, who celebrated his 71st birthday yesterday.

The Nationals are scheduled to play next season in RFK and move into the new stadium along the Anacostia River in 2008. Knowing that RFK’s days as a baseball stadium are ticking down, the Nationals really don’t care if they move in the fences.

“It has nothing to do with the fences. You just have to go out and play,” said outfielder Ryan Church, who was the first Nationals player to homer at RFK last year in an exhibition game against the New York Mets. “We’ve had guys in the past talk about moving in the fences and all that stuff, it’s got nothing to do with it. Just take your doubles and your triples and hit your home runs on the road.”

Bergmann to start

Right-hander Jason Bergmann (0-1, 6.64 ERA) will start tomorrow night when Washington faces ex-Nationals ace Livan Hernandez and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Bergmann this season has bounced back and forth between bullpen duty and starting assignments. Statistically, he has been better as a starter than as a reliever.

“I can do either one. I like doing the bullpen. I like being a starter,” Bergmann said. “As long as they give me a chance, period. That’s what I’m after.”

Bergmann, who has been sent down to Class AAA New Orleans three times this season, recorded an 8.14 ERA in 17 relief appearances in his first two stints with the Nationals. Bergmann said he has made adjustments since being converted back to a starter with New Orleans in early July.

“One thing, I’m throwing better pitches in better counts,” Bergmann said. “Sometimes, I’m not throwing first-pitch strikes, but I’m able to come back with some pitches, fastballs, sliders, a curveball at various times around. In one of my other times up, I wasn’t placing many two-strike pitches and getting anybody out with them.”

Lay it down

Rookie third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who is a candidate for NL rookie of the year, opened the third inning with a perfectly executed bunt down the third-base line that Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Abraham Nunez couldn’t handle. Zimmerman is 10-for-10 when bunting for a base hit.

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