- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 22, 2005

VIERA, Fla. — As far as Washington Nationals right fielder Jose Guillen is concerned, last season was last season.

“What have I learned from my mistakes? Well, we’ll see this year and just leave it like that,” Guillen said.

The talented Guillen hit .294 with 27 home runs and 104 RBI for the Anaheim Angels, but the only thing most people remember is that he was suspended for the last eight days of the regular season and playoffs for what the Angels called “inappropriate conduct.”

Translation: Guillen erupted when manager Mike Scioscia pulled him for a pinch runner in a Sept.25 game against Oakland. During the offseason, the volatile Dominican attended anger management classes. Though all the Nationals are getting a fresh start, it’s probably more important for him than anybody else.

“Everything is fine, and everything is going to be perfect,” Guillen said. “All that was going on is behind me. It’s a new team with new teammates, and we’re coming into a new town. Hopefully, everything will go well, and we can have a great season.”

Guillen, 28, could be the cleanup hitter in Washington. The Nationals acquired him Nov.19 for promising outfielder Juan Rivera and shortstop Maicer Izturis.

“We traded for him for what we feel he can do and what he’s done,” said manager Frank Robinson, who hasn’t spoken to Guillen about last season. “I want him to come in here and give me the numbers and have the type of year that he’s capable of having and he’s had in the past. If he gives me that type of year, we’re OK. If he falls short of those productions, we’ll have to pick it up someplace else.”

On a day when position players were expected only to undergo physicals before today’s first full-squad workouts, Guillen took batting practice and showed his new teammates how the ball explodes off his bat.

Guillen took approximately 25 swings in batting practice. The powerful 5-foot-11, 195-pounder smashed line drives all over practice field No.1 and sent two balls over the left-field fence, an estimated 350 feet away.

Guillen and third baseman Vinny Castilla joined five other projected regulars in the batting cage.

“We’ve got some guys in the lineup that can do some damage,” said outfielder Brad Wilkerson, the Montreal Expos’ player of the year last season. “That’s what we need. We were kind of lacking that last year. In today’s game, you need some guys in there that pop you 30 or 40 home runs and knock in 100 RBI. We filled some much-needed spots, and I don’t think we’re even done.”

Talent has never been an issue with Guillen, who broke into the majors at 20 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Nationals right-hander Esteban Loaiza played with Guillen on the Pirates in 1997 and 1998 and remembers him as a cocky, hard-headed player who never listened to the veterans.

“He wanted to go out there and take charge, and a lot of people were getting mad,” Loaiza said. “People were not telling him what he needed to do. Now that he has a lot more [experience], he listens now. Just don’t get him angry, because it’s a whole different story. His temper is going to change a lot here, especially with all the Latin guys being here.”

The Nationals have 16 Latin players on their 40-man roster. Five of the projected regular eight position players predominantly speak Spanish.

Guillen also has a close relationship with Nationals interim general manager Jim Bowden from their days together in Cincinnati in 2002 and 2003. After Bowden was fired as the Reds’ general manager on July28, 2003, Guillen was traded to Oakland two days later.

When Bowden acquired Guillen for the Nationals, he assuaged fears of Guillen’s fiery reputation by saying, “I’d trust him with my children.”

Said Guillen: “He knows me very well when I was in Cincinnati. We’ve always had good conversations, we always talk and I have a great relationship with his kids, too. It’s great to have a guy you get along with real well ” a guy who gave me a chance to play and prove to everybody I was a guy that could still play. I appreciate.”

Guillen’s bounceback season came in 2003 with Cincinnati and Oakland: .311 with 28 doubles, a career-high 31 home runs and 86 RBI in 136 games.

And yesterday Guillen became the latest Nationals player to scoff at preseason predictions that have the team finishing last in the National League East.

“I don’t think we’re going to finish last,” Guillen said. “I can guarantee we’re going to have a great season. Hopefully, everybody can stay healthy and we can put on a show.”

And hopefully, he will control that temper and be a big part of it.

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