- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 16, 2007

The outfield bleachers weren’t completely built. The field, as it were, featured mounds of sand and gravel with some machinery scattered around. The fences had temporary distance markers posted.

But as they stood at the site of home plate in their new ballpark yesterday afternoon taking batting practice, five Washington Nationals players couldn’t help but start dreaming about the finished product they will see in April.

“I don’t think [anybody] can wait for the first game next year,” outfielder Wily Mo Pena said. “Me, too. I can’t wait. I’m excited already. I can feel it.”

Pena joined Ryan Zimmerman, Brian Schneider, Ryan Church and Justin Maxwell in taking six hacks apiece. Standing on a green felt mat that only partially stabilized the ground beneath their feet, the players took aim at the farthest reaches of the ballpark.

A couple of guys hit what probably will be home runs once the fences are installed. Schneider reached the Nationals” bullpen down the right-field line, and Pena sent several balls flying toward the visitors” bullpen in left field.

But a stiff wind blowing in from left seemed to keep several balls in the park. Whether that holds true once the entire venue is built up remains to be seen.

“It’s tricky,” Zimmerman said. “You can’t tell right now. I guess those stands are a lot farther away than you think they are. Wily hit a ball that I thought for sure was going to be out of here. I guess those signs trick you.”

It didn’t help matters that the hitting background consisted of white concrete and bright mounds of sand. So the players, who can’t wait to leave spacious RFK Stadium and move into their new, cozier confines, still aren’t ready to draw any conclusions.

“No, not really,” Church said. “We’re cold. We haven’t done much. Usually it takes a couple rounds to get really loose and start letting it go. But once they get everything cleared out of here, get a field out here and get a fence out here, we’ll be able to tell.”

Guzman likely out

Despite his best efforts to return from a torn thumb ligament to play before the end of the season, shortstop Cristian Guzman likely has run out of time.

Guzman, out since June 25, took grounders yesterday afternoon and looked healthy, but manager Manny Acta said there’s not time or opportunity for the 29-year-old to get his swing back before the season ends.

Normally, a player could go on a minor league rehab assignment to get at-bats before returning from the disabled list. But the minor league seasons ended early this month, and Acta said it wouldn’t be fair to throw a cold Guzman into the lineup in the final week of the season.

“If we would have had instructional league already going on where he could have those at-bats down there, then it’s a different story,” Acta said. “But it would be too much to ask a guy who’s been out for so long to get his timing down against big league pitching.”

Guzman will play winter ball, then make his comeback next spring.

Redding good to go

Right-hander Tim Redding emerged fine from his throwing session Friday and will start tomorrow night against the Mets.

Redding has not pitched since Sept. 5, when he was struck in his throwing elbow by a batted ball.

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