- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 20, 2005

Nationals notes

VIERA, Fla. — Seven of the eight everyday starters positions are pretty much set for the Washington Nationals. The ninth? Well, manager Frank Robinson isn’t so sure about center field.

“That’s the one job I’m really kind of open-minded about,” Robinson said yesterday.

Which means Endy Chavez, who started 122 games there last year, will have to earn the job this spring.

Chavez, who will report to spring training today with the rest of the position players, has been a serviceable outfielder for the Montreal Expos for three seasons but has yet to live up to his potential.

The speedy 27-year-old batted .277 in 2004 but had a disappointing .318 on-base percentage, walking only 30 times in 502 at-bats. To retain his regular job and place atop Washington’s lineup, Chavez will have to prove this spring that he’s maturing as a hitter. Robinson’s goals for Chavez include getting on base more often and scoring 100 or more runs for the first time.

“I want him to be the center fielder here because we’re going to be a better ballclub if he is,” Robinson said. “If he isn’t and he doesn’t give me all the things I want from him, then I have to look for someone else. I wouldn’t say the job is his to lose, but he does have a foot up on everybody else.”

If Chavez falters, the most likely scenario would have Brad Wilkerson moving from left field to center and batting leadoff, with Terrmel Sledge starting in left.

Guzman arrives

Shortstop Cristian Guzman was the latest position player to report to camp early. The former Minnesota Twin was on the field in a Nationals uniform for the first time, fielding grounders from hitting coach Tom McCraw and taking batting practice.

Guzman, who signed a four-year, $16.8 million deal to come to Washington, spent much of this winter working out in his native Dominican Republic with Nationals strength and conditioning coach Kazu Tomooka.

Robinson is looking for the 26-year-old to be a base-stealing threat this season, either from the No. 2 spot in the lineup or somewhere down near the bottom.

“It doesn’t matter to me [where I hit],” Guzman said. “Two, nine, eight …”

The career American Leaguer was reminded that you can’t hit ninth in the National League.

“Oh, not nine,” he said. “Unless the pitchers are hitting good.”

Guzman had 10 stolen bases last season, his lowest total since swiping nine as a rookie in 1999.

Numbers crunch

Robinson is the kind of manager who prefers to keep as small a bullpen as he can get away with, which could make for some interesting battles the rest of the spring.

Robinson said he’s likely to bring 11 or 12 pitchers north. Five spots appear to be locked up: right-handers Chad Cordero, Luis Ayala, Antonio Osuna and T.J. Tucker, plus left-hander Joey Eischen.

That leaves one or two spots for a pool of at least five pitchers who spent considerable time in the majors last season: right-handers Claudio Vargas, Francis Beltran, John Patterson and Jon Rauch, plus left-hander Joe Horgan.

For someone like Horgan, who posted a 3.15 ERA in 47 appearances for the Expos last year, that could make for a tense spring.

“Well, I’m here,” Horgan said. “And as long as you’re here, you’ve got a chance. I think everybody here has a good idea of what I can do. I haven’t been in the major leagues that long, but I’ve been around the game long enough to know there are some things you can’t control. All I can do is go out there and compete to the best of my abilities every day.”

Extra bases

A couple of pitchers are battling minor injuries early in camp. Ace Livan Hernandez suffered a mildly strained Achilles’ tendon during Friday’s workout, but he looked fine running around the field yesterday. Vargas and Beltran each have elbow strains and are being monitored closely by trainers. … Though Robinson does not expect all 25 position players to physically be at camp today when they are scheduled to report, but he does expect all to undergo physicals as scheduled tomorrow.

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