- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 9, 2009

PHOENIX | Felipe Lopez isn’t afraid to say it, no matter how it sounds or who he upsets. The veteran second baseman, dumped by the Nationals last July for his miserable performance on the field and miserable attitude off it, believes his career has turned around because Washington released him.

“I am so glad that the Nationals gave me my release,” he said Friday. “That was the best thing that happened to me.”

Now starting at second base and leading off for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Lopez is doing the kinds of things fans in Washington never saw in parts of three seasons. He entered Friday night’s game hitting .303 with three homers and seven RBI - after hitting .385 in 43 games with the St. Louis Cardinals late last year.

A bust during his time in the District - he hit .250 with 13 homers and 97 RBI in 325 games from 2006 to 2008 - Lopez was given his unconditional release July 31, forcing the Nationals to eat the remainder of his $4.9 million contract. Washington’s front office, fed up with Lopez’s lack of production and lack of effort, barely worried about the financial hit.

But the 28-year-old caught on with the Cardinals and rode his success there to a $3.5 million contract with Arizona. He continues to maintain he struggled in Washington because the organization was poorly run.

“When I went to St. Louis, I was able to be around some professional people and got my [stuff] straight,” he said. “As soon as I walked in, it was like, ‘Oh [expletive], this is the way it’s supposed to feel. Not like that.’ ”

Nationals manager Manny Acta, who continued to publicly support Lopez when things went sour last season, disagreed with the infielder’s sentiments but wouldn’t fire back.

“We played him, and we tried our best,” Acta said. “He’s doing real good right now, and we wish him well, to him and to his family. But right now I’m happy the way [new second baseman Anderson Hernandez] is playing.”

Another former Nationals player now in Arizona, reliever Jon Rauch, isn’t enjoying as much success with his new club. The right-hander owns a 9.00 ERA in 14 games and has been demoted to mop-up duties.

Rauch greeted several of his ex-teammates on the field during batting practice and chatted with a couple of reporters but said he didn’t want to be quoted.

Zimmerman hits 26

Ryan Zimmerman keeps coming up to bat in the first inning every night, and he keeps coming up with hits.

Zimmerman once again singled in his first at-bat Friday night, rapping a hard grounder through the left side of the infield to extend his hitting streak to 26 games. The third baseman has hit safely in the first inning of three straight games and five of his past six games.

His streak is the majors’ longest since Moises Alou hit in 30 consecutive games for the New York Mets in 2007.

Already the longest run in Nationals history, Zimmerman’s streak is also the fifth-longest in Washington baseball history and only seven behind the record of 33, set by Senators Hall of Famer Heinie Manush in 1933.

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