- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 23, 2009

Life as a member of the Washington Nationals has become a constant adjustment for Josh Willingham, who went from a guaranteed spot in the lineup when the club acquired him in November to the odd man out this spring.

Willingham, though, is finding some success in a brand-new role, one he didn’t necessarily expect to thrive in: pinch hitter.

With an RBI single off the bench Tuesday night against the Atlanta Braves, Willingham produced the eventual game-winning hit. Combine that with a pinch-hit home run last week against the Philadelphia Phillies, and the outfielder-turned-specialist has shown a knack for coming through in the clutch.

“In anything that you do, it gets more comfortable every time you do it,” he said. “So yeah, I’m getting more in a routine of when I need to go start getting my body loose, getting ready to hit and knowing what kind of situation [manager Manny Acta] would like to use me in.”

A five-year veteran, Willingham had made only 25 pinch-hit appearances before this season, posting just six hits off the bench. But he’s 2-for-5 this season and is becoming Acta’s most trusted bat in the late innings.

“Pinch hitting is hard, and it’s something that I’m getting used to the more that I do it,” he said. “When you get up there, you just can’t try to do too much. You just have to try to get a pitch and put a good swing on it, and whatever happens, happens.”

Franchise value down

The Nationals are now worth $406 million, a 12 percent decline from last year, according to the latest MLB team valuations from Forbes magazine.

The magazine ranks the Nationals 14th in baseball in total value, behind the Seattle Mariners and ahead of the Texas Rangers. It reports the team had $184 million in revenue last season with $42.6 million in operating income.

Forbes said Washington’s ownership group has “badly botched the job thus far of trying to successfully bring major league baseball to the nation’s capital for the third time.” The magazine cites the downturn in the economy as well as the team’s 102-loss season and controversy over scouting in Latin America as the primary reasons for the loss in value.

The New York Yankees topped the rankings with a value of $1.5 billion, the New York Mets ranked second at $912 million, and the Boston Red Sox ranked third at $833 million.

Extra bases

Last week’s postponed game against the Philadelphia Phillies has been rescheduled as part of a day-night doubleheader May 16. Fans who held tickets to the rainout (originally scheduled for April 15) can use them for the same seat at the 1:05 p.m. game May 16. Separate tickets are required for the 7:05 p.m. nightcap. …

Acta gave both his regular middle infielders Wednesday night’s game off, sitting shortstop Alberto Gonzalez and second baseman Anderson Hernandez in favor of Alex Cintron and Ronnie Belliard, respectively. Gonzalez has struggled in the field since taking over for the injured Cristian Guzman, committing five errors in 36 chances.

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