- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 23, 2005

VIERA, Fla. — The Washington Nationals conducted their first full-squad workout yesterday with new veterans like third baseman Vinny Castilla, right fielder Jose Guillen, shortstop Cristian Guzman and pitcher Esteban Loaiza taking part.

“This is a very exciting moment — you get to see the guys and be together with them again,” said three-time All-Star second baseman Jose Vidro. “This is what we love. Once we put the uniform on, we mean business, and that’s the way we approach it. Business starts today, not in April.”

One can sense a silent commitment among these players. The Nationals appear driven to erase memories of last season’s 67-95 debacle.

“Those are the kind of guys Frank [Robinson] wants around,” catcher Brian Schneider said. “Frank wants guys you can count on and be here on time. It’s just good to see a full clubhouse. A lot of the guys that are new here, we’ve known them for years now playing against them.”

From all indicators, yesterday’s workout was more than just a formality. Infielders took grounders, the coaching staff met with the outfielders for a long time on the field, pitchers fired away in the bullpen and everybody got in a full-length batting session.

“It’s always interesting to see how the chemistry of the ballclub is going to shape up,” left fielder Brad Wilkerson said. “I think a lot of guys have shown a lot of energy and a lot of focus so far. I think the workout went smooth and really good.”

Beltran shelved

The Nationals suffered their first significant injury when they learned right-hander Francis Beltran will be out at least a month because of a strained ulnar collateral ligament in his right arm.

The Nationals plan to shut down Beltran for a month before letting the tall Dominican throw again. Interim general manager Jim Bowden said an MRI yesterday revealed no tear. However, Beltran will be re-evaluated again today by team physicians to determine the extent of his injury.

“It’s a setback for him,” Bowden said. “It’s kind of disappointing. We’ll rehab him and get him ready — that’s all you can do.”

According to Bowden, Beltran has a good chance of making the roster, most likely in the bullpen. The Nationals acquired the 6-foot-6 Beltran one minute before the July 31 trading deadline from the Chicago Cubs as part of a four-team deal that sent Orlando Cabrera to Boston and shortstop Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs.

Beltran, who started last season at Class AAA Iowa, went 2-2 with one save and a 5.47 ERA in 45 games for the Cubs and Montreal Expos. If rehab does not improve Beltran’s condition, Tommy John surgery is a possibility.

Leadoff man

Center fielder Endy Chavez knows he won’t be the club’s leadoff hitter if he doesn’t improve his on-base percentage. Batting first last year, Chavez’s percentage was just .291, compared to .347 when he batted second.

Robinson doesn’t want to repeat last year’s scenario with left fielder Wilkerson leading off. Robinson envisions Wilkerson batting down in the order this season to drive in runs. It’s up to Chavez to reach base and keep the left-handed swinging Wilkerson in the middle of the order.

“I’m working on it, doing a lot of bunting to help my on-base percentage,” Chavez said. “It’s going to be tough for my hitting. I’m going to try to work more and do anything I can this year to get on base.”

Once aboard, the speedy Chavez is an asset. The Venezuelan stole a team-high 32 bases last year, batted .277 with five home runs and 34 RBI and tied outfielder Terrmel Sledge with a team-high six triples. However, he only drew 30 walks.

Extra bases

Veteran infielder Carlos Baerga, a three-time All-Star with the Cleveland Indians, did not attend yesterday’s first full-squad workout. Baerga, who signed a non-guaranteed minor league contract Monday, was due to report last night and will wear No. 77. … Veteran reliever Antonio Osuna still hasn’t reported to camp because of a family illness in his native Mexico. … The Nationals came to terms with pitcher Jon Rauch yesterday on a 2005 contract.

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