- The Washington Times - Monday, August 3, 2009

PITTSBURGH | Josh Willingham knows he’s going to be part of the Washington Nationals’ lineup beyond this season. That much became clear when acting general manager Mike Rizzo wouldn’t trade the hot-hitting slugger before Friday’s deadline.

Now the Nationals just have to figure out where Willingham fits in the field moving forward.

The club had planned to give the 30-year-old his first career start at first base Sunday but had to change course shortly before the game because right fielder Austin Kearns was scratched with a bruised right thumb. The domino effect forced Willingham to left field, Elijah Dukes to right field and Ronnie Belliard to first base.

Still, the Nationals would like to get a look at Willingham in the infield, and he’s happy to oblige despite his lack of recent experience there. (He did play there some in the minors.)

“I know the position. I just haven’t done it in so long,” he said. “I was actually kind of looking forward to playing it, but it also wasn’t a bad thing to get back to where I was used to playing.”

No matter where he is in the field, Willingham has brought his potent bat with him. With a key two-run homer and an RBI double Sunday against the Pirates, he extended a hot streak that has lasted nearly three months. In 66 games since May 5, he’s batting .332 with 16 homers, 20 doubles and 40 RBI.

It’s for that reason the Nationals want Willingham to be a major part of their 2010 lineup, perhaps at first base. Rizzo said the club is unlikely to pursue a first baseman from outside the organization this winter, relying on Willingham and Adam Dunn to hold that position until top prospect Chris Marrero is ready.

Incidentally, Rizzo said Marrero will remain at Class A Potomac the rest of the season, making it unlikely he’ll be big league-ready until at least September 2010.

Zimmermann update

Jordan Zimmermann will make a four-inning rehab start for Class A Potomac on Tuesday. Where the injured right-hander - on the 15-day disabled list since July 19 with elbow inflammation - goes from there remains to be determined.

The Nationals are making a conscious effort to cap the rookie’s innings at 150 to 160. He has thrown 96 2/3 innings between Washington and Class AAA Syracuse this season.

With that in mind, Zimmermann will be limited to five innings the next time he throws following Tuesday’s start. But will that start come at Nationals Park or in the minors?

“We’ll make that determination [based] on what we see Tuesday,” Rizzo said.

Extra bases

Two of Washington’s top prospects have been selected to play in the Arizona Fall League: catcher Derek Norris (who has 23 homers and 73 RBI at low-Class A Hagerstown) and shortstop Danny Espinosa (who has 10 homers and 49 RBI at Potomac). The Nationals will select five more players later this summer, with Marrero possibly among them. …

The Arizona Diamondbacks reportedly are close to signing right-hander Daniel Cabrera. He hasn’t pitched since the Nationals released him in May with his record at 0-5 and his ERA at 5.85.

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