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Columbus seeks new affiliation

- The Washington Times - Friday, August 8, 2008

DENVER | On a day they called pitcher Garrett Mock up from Class AAA Columbus for the fourth time this season, the Washington Nationals came closer to the possibility they might not bring players from there much longer.

Clippers general manager Ken Schnacke told the Columbus Dispatch on Wednesday the team intends to search for a new major league affiliation after its two-year agreement with the Nationals expires Sept. 1. Major league teams can start talking to potential affiliates Sept. 16.

Nationals team president Stan Kasten said the news didn't surprise him, adding “it's no secret they've planned to try to get with Cleveland.”

The Indians have been mentioned as the top candidate to land the Clippers, mostly because of their proximity to Columbus. Most major league teams prefer to have their affiliates close by, because of the convenience it affords to scouting trips, roving instructor visits and rehab assignments.

Minor league clubs hope the short distance will draw fans of the major league team interested in seeing the franchise's prospects, much like the Class A Potomac Nationals try to do in the Washington market.

“We enjoy Columbus,” Kasten said. “But it's well known to everyone they want to land with Cleveland.”

The expiring contracts of several International League teams are expected to produce a shuffle that could leave the Nationals without an option closer than a six-hour drive. Cleveland's Class AAA affiliate (Buffalo) is believed to be wanted by the Toronto Blue Jays, whose Syracuse, N.Y., affiliate could then land with the Mets.

That would leave the Nationals to pick between New Orleans - their previous Class AAA home and the Mets' affiliate - or Memphis, Tenn., and Omaha, Neb., if the Cardinals and Royals respectively decide to look elsewhere.

Richmond, the Braves' Class AAA site, will be without a team after the season. But because Atlanta is moving the franchise to Gwinnett County, Ga., an existing franchise would then have to move there and gain affiliation with the Nationals.

Acta pines for power

Although Lastings Milledge's two homers in the first game of Thursday's doubleheader gave the Nationals seven in their last five games, the team still lacks proven power hitters.

Through Wednesday, their 81 homers ranked 14th in the 16-team National League, their .365 slugging percentage last.

Asked whether he felt the Nationals needed more sluggers in the future, manager Manny Acta specified what he would like to have.

“We do need a big power threat in the middle of our lineup, preferably that can hit from the left side, because we do have a few right-handed hitters,” he said. “You can only emphasize that if you have it. I can't ask all these guys to hit for power if they still haven't developed into power hitters.”

The Nationals could be in the market for a first baseman after the season if they decide Nick Johnson's and Dmitri Young's injury problems make them too unreliable. But the highest-profile option - the Angels' Mark Teixeira - likely would be out of Washington's price range.

“We need another threat in our lineup in order to compete,” Acta said. “I'm not saying we're going to get it, but that's something we know in the future will help.”

Redding OK

Starter Tim Redding has a right thigh bruise after a fly ball hit him in the outfield during batting practice Thursday. Acta said he didn't expect Redding to miss his Saturday start in Milwaukee.