- The Washington Times - Friday, February 18, 2005

VIERA, Fla. — Though he’s been careful not to reveal his regular lineup, Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson might have inadvertently tipped his hand yesterday when he rattled off a list of eight likely starters.

Asked to assess his club’s defensive prowess, Robinson went around the diamond and named eight players: catcher Brian Schneider, first baseman Nick Johnson, second baseman Jose Vidro, shortstop Cristian Guzman, third baseman Vinny Castilla, left fielder Brad Wilkerson, center fielder Endy Chavez and right fielder Jose Guillen.

“With those eight people on the field, that’s a very good defensive ballclub,” Robinson said.

That lineup would appear to leave second-year outfielder Terrmel Sledge on the bench. Sledge, who reported to camp yesterday, had an impressive rookie season in 2004 and figures to push for a starting job.

However, Sledge might need Chavez or Johnson to struggle this spring to crack the lineup. If Chavez falters, Wilkerson would move over to center field and Sledge would start in left. If Johnson struggles or has trouble staying healthy, Wilkerson would move in to play first base, again opening up left field for Sledge.

Rising Sun right-hander

Pitcher Tomo Ohka had his own media contingent watching his every move yesterday. An estimated 12 Japanese media members showed up at practice and followed their countryman to every practice field and watched every drill.

Ohka, who has a titanium plate in his right forearm from surgery last season, insists he’s not big in Japan like Ichiro Suzuki or Hideki Matsui. One wouldn’t have known it from his following.

“I think it’s just today ” it’s the first day,” Ohka said of his media attention. “Other players are big in Japan; I’m not big in Japan. They don’t know me.”

Ohka played sporadically for Yokohama in the Japanese Central League from 1994 to 1998, making four starts in 34 appearances, but was never a star in his homeland.

The Boston Red Sox purchased Ohka from Yokohama on Nov. 20, 1998, and placed him in their minor league system. Ohka was selected as the Red Sox’s 1999 minor league pitcher of the year after going 15-0 with a 2.31 ERA between Class AA Trenton and AAA Pawtucket.

Ohka suffered a freak injury last June 10 at Kansas City when he was struck on the right arm by a Carlos Beltran line drive. Two days later, Ohka had the titanium plate inserted and in three post-surgery starts went 0-2 with a 5.54 ERA.

Robinson said there is no communication problem with Ohka.

“In baseball, there is not a language barrier,” Robinson said. “Baseball language is a universal language. You can get across with most guys and have them understand you. All players understand baseball language.”

First impressions

Nationals catcher Brian Schneider got acquainted with starter Esteban Loaiza yesterday. The Nationals signed the veteran Loaiza as a free agent last month.

Schneider caught Loaiza off the mound and said it’s important for the Mexican right-hander to feel comfortable with the person that’s going to handle his pitches.

“I want to make sure I catch Loaiza as much as possible,” Schneider said. “Kind of get used to the stuff he has and where he wants me to set up on some pitches. We just worked on a couple pitches. We made it real simple ” a quick bullpen ” just to get his arm loose and worked fastball and cutter. I just wanted to get location down right now, that’s the important thing ” not so much movement on ball and all that.”

Extra bases

Along with Sledge, infielder Brendan Harris reported yesterday, giving the Nationals 10 position players in Viera three days before they are required to report. …

Washington agreed to terms on a 2005 contract with reliever Claudio Vargas. The 25-year-old right-hander went 5-5 with a 5.25 ERA in 45 appearances last season and is fighting for a spot in the bullpen this spring. The Nationals now have 31 of 40 players on the roster under contract.

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