- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 31, 2008

— Willie Harris has long since accepted that his ticket to survival in the big leagues is through his versatility.

The 29-year-old infielder/outfielder knows he’s not likely to be an everyday player, but he knows he can sustain a productive career by holding down a variety of roles. Already this season, he has played five different positions for the Washington Nationals — left field, center field, second base, third base and shortstop — despite appearing only 10 times in the starting lineup.

Harris, though, has shown a knack for delivering when given a chance. And last night he was up to his old tricks again, making a rare start at second base and drilling the deciding, three-run homer in the Nationals’ 7-4 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“I’m not an everyday player, and I know that,” he said. “But at the same time, when given an opportunity, you’ve got to make the most of the opportunities.”

With the game knotted 3-3 in the seventh, Harris came to the plate with two on and one out. The diminutive utilityman fouled off a first-pitch slider from Arizona starter Micah Owings, then turned on an 89 mph fastball and belted it over the right-field fence.

As the Chase Field crowd of 25,391 sat in stunned silence, Harris rounded the bases triumphantly for the second time this season and only the ninth time in 1,307 career at-bats.

“I’m by far not a home run hitter,” he said. “And I don’t consider myself one either.”

The .169 hitter, mired in a 1-for-15 slump, was afforded the chance to start and lead off as part of a lineup overhaul for the series opener against the NL West leaders. With more than half of his Opening Night lineup injured and those remaining starters slogging their way through an abysmal stretch at the plate, manager Manny Acta decided to shake things up a bit.

Out were slumping outfielders Wily Mo Pena (.207) and Elijah Dukes (.143) and second baseman Felipe Lopez (.247), replaced by a trio of reserves all hitting below .170: Rob Mackowiak, Ryan Langerhans and Harris.

Those three might not have brought much pedigree to the table, but with nobody else producing these days, Acta figured he might as well try something different. Plus, all three hit from the left side of the plate, and Owings (6-3) holds right-handed hitters to a .196 average.

“I’m happy for a guy like Willie because Willie works so hard and brings a lot of energy to our club every single day,” Acta said. “He’s a very coachable kid. I’m glad it worked out and those guys were able to contribute to our victory today.”

As it turned out, the man who staked the Nationals to an early 2-0 lead was one of the few regulars who has been hitting with any consistency: Jesus Flores. The second-year catcher continued his clutch-hitting ways with a second-inning, line-drive single to right, scoring Dmitri Young and Lastings Milledge and putting the visitors on top.

Flores, though, later left the game with headaches and nausea after taking two foul tips off his facemask, including one off Owings’ bat in the sixth inning that caromed well into the stands.

“I just came back from that inning to the dugout, and I started feeling dizzy and a little nauseous,” Flores said. “I just was scared, so that’s why I told the trainer.”

Washington starter Tim Redding managed to hold the two-run lead Flores provided for a while, but as has so often been the case this year, the right-hander faded little by little as the night wore on.

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