- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2008

JUPITER, Fla. — Washington Nationals general manager Jim Bowden said yesterday the team is “not close to a deal right now” to move a player out of its crowded middle infield.

Second baseman Felipe Lopez said last week he would not accept a role on the bench, and the Baltimore Orioles and Chicago Cubs are among the teams who have expressed interest in acquiring the 2005 All-Star.

Assuming the Nationals don’t make a trade before they open the season Sunday, however, Lopez likely will sit while Ronnie Belliard starts at second base and Cristian Guzman starts at shortstop.

“If we could make a move to give them an opportunity to play every day and make our organization better, we’ll do it,” Bowden said. “But we’re not going to make a deal that we don’t think is going to make our organization better.”

Lopez, who did not play yesterday, had made three errors in Washington’s last three games. He is hitting .231 this spring. Belliard and Guzman are hitting .383 and .296, respectively.

G. Guzman staying

Bowden did make one move yesterday, however: He swung a deal with the Minnesota Twins to keep outfielder Garrett Guzman, a Rule 5 pick, in the Nationals‘ system.

Washington will give the Twins a player to be named or cash by July 15. Had the Nationals not kept Guzman on their 25-man roster for the entire season, he would have been transferred back to Minnesota. Instead, he will start the year with Class AAA Columbus.

“I’m glad. I’m on the 40-man [roster] over here, and I’m in the National League, which fits me a little better,” Guzman said. “It’s a good opportunity.”

Nieves reassigned

The Nationals announced they reassigned catcher Wil Nieves to their minor league camp. Assuming Johnny Estrada”s elbow problems cause him to start the year on the disabled list, it would leave Jesus Flores as the other option to back up Paul Lo Duca.

Lo Duca went 0-for-3 and caught six innings yesterday against the Florida Marlins. He slipped behind the plate while chasing down his passed ball in the fourth inning but said his knee felt fine afterward.

He likely will catch today against the Detroit Tigers, his first appearance in back-to-back games of the spring.

King ‘smelled’ hit

The player wearing No. 92, barreling down the first-base line after laying down a perfect bunt? That was reliever Ray King, who batted for the first time in two years yesterday — all while wearing a borrowed uniform.

King, who normally wears No. 36, packed his bag for Jupiter on Saturday but left his uniform at Space Coast Stadium. Wearing a number usually reserved for minor leaguers, King dropped a bunt down the first-base line that moved Aaron Boone to second and nearly beat out Matt Lindstrom’s tag.

“I smelled a hit,” he said. “It would have been the first hit of my career.”

King has logged only six regular-season at-bats in his career, never recording a hit.

In fact, the only time he has been on base was Sept. 12, 2004, when he was a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. He bunted down the third-base line, reached first when Cesar Izturis threw wild to first after trying to turn a 5-6-3 double play and took second on the error.

“It was fun but a little nerve-racking,” he said. “You get in the box, and the pitcher’s right there. I was like, ‘Man, that’s pretty close.’ ”

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