- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 2, 2005

VIERA, Fla. — The Washington Nationals broke their first spring training camp yesterday, but they still have questions to answer before the season begins Monday in Philadelphia.

Center field is the team’s biggest uncertainty. After Endy Chavez’s demotion earlier this week, it appears Ryan Church will be the Opening Day starter. However, Nationals manager Frank Robinson could move Brad Wilkerson into center and slide Terrmel Sledge into left.

There’s also the need to settle on a leadoff hitter. Wilkerson, first baseman Nick Johnson and shortstop Cristian Guzman all could bat in that spot.

Then there’s the offense in general. The Nationals have hit .215 (66-for-307) in their last 10 games and haven’t produced 10 or more hits in a game since March20.

“I’d like to see the offense, period. The offense, and that’s almost everybody in the lineup,” Robinson said. “I don’t know if you can get that going in one ballgame or two ballgames. The offense is what bothers me right now. It’s not the lack of runs we’re scoring, not the lack of hits, it’s the at-bats. We’re not having good at-bats right now.”

While the Nationals’ bats have been silent, the club’s pitching has been a bright spot. Starters Livan Hernandez, Esteban Loaiza, Tomo Ohka and Zach Day combined for a 2.60 ERA in 90 innings this spring.

When spring training opened, the rotation was riddled with uncertainty. Tony Armas Jr. (shoulder), Ohka (arm) and Day (finger) all were coming off injuries, and Loaiza struggled in the second half last year. Armas is on the disabled list with a pulled groin, but the others have been impressive.

“We’re not going to score a lot of runs consistently in ballgames,” Robinson said. “Hopefully, our pitching staff will hold the other team down to four runs or less, and then it’s up to us to score what we need in that ballgame.”

Nationals clubhouse manager Mike Wallace passed out the players’ blue seasonal bags Thursday for the players to pack and stack along a wall inside the clubhouse. Everything the team doesn’t take with it to St. Petersburg today for an exhibition against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays will be sent to Washington in a truck and arrive either Monday or Tuesday.

Earlier in the week, Wallace dispatched two of his assistants to RFK Stadium to serve as point men to handle any early equipment shipments that may arrive and get things organized for tomorrow’s final exhibition game against the Mets.

Wallace is responsible for transporting all the team’s equipment and the players’ personal items, but he must also transport boxes of files, press guides and personal items from the club’s front office.

After a hectic week, Wallace said things should go smoother once everything arrives at RFK because the vagabond team of the past three years finally will have a permanent home.

“It’s going to be an exciting time for everybody,” Wilkerson said. “I think we’re all excited with trying to wrap [spring training] up and getting on with being the Washington Nationals this year.”

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