- The Washington Times - Monday, February 28, 2005

VIERA, Fla. — Washington Nationals utility infielder George Arias had trouble learning the native language while playing professional baseball in Japan. Mastering the pitching there was a lot less difficult.

Arias, 32, hit .261 with 159 homers and 431 RBI in 622 games with the Orix Blue Wave (2000-01) of the Pacific League and Hanshin Tigers (2002-04) of the Central League.

“It was a great experience. The first year is always tough adjusting to the culture, the baseball and the lifestyle. It’s kind of a different game there,” Arias said. “Here it’s more power. Over there it’s more trying to be more mechanically sound.”

Arias, who communicated with his coaches and teammates through a translator, posted a .523 slugging percentage in Japan and said he has plenty of admiration for Japanese hurlers.

“They’ve got some guys that can throw. They don’t give in,” Arias said. “There can be bases loaded, and you have to play, and you’ll get four or five straight forkballs — and they’ll throw them for strikes. As a foreigner, you’ll have that fastball mentality. You’ve got to take that right out. It’s almost like you have to think backwards [at the plate], and that’s what they’re good at. You have to be patient. That’s one thing I learned over there.”

The Nationals signed Arias to a minor league contract to bolster the club’s options in the infield. If Arias can show he can hit like he did in Japan, he has a pretty good chance of making the Opening Day roster for the Nationals, who also are looking for pinch hitters.

“I did a lot of growing up over there in Japan, knowing what I can and can’t do on the diamond,” Arias said. “Hopefully, I can use that experience over here.”

Ready for challenge

Carlos Baerga, a career .292 hitter with 132 home runs and 755 RBI in 1,537 games spanning 13 big-league seasons, said he’s at ease with trying to make the club as a backup infielder.

Baerga, who fielded grounders at second base yesterday, represented the Cleveland Indians at that position in three All-Star Games (1992-93, 1995).

“If you love this game, you want to be in the major leagues, no matter what you’re doing,” said Baerga, 36. “When they told me I was going to be a utility player … I just said, ‘Well, I have to be prepared for my new job.’ I realized that I’m here in the big leagues, and I’m very lucky.”

Soggy ground

In the wake of Sunday’s torrential downpour, the Nationals were forced to cut back on yesterday’s workout because of wet practice fields.

The limited workout, which included live pitching in batting practice, curtailed preparation for tomorrow’s exhibition season opener against the New York Mets at Space Coast Stadium.

“It makes a difference, a little bit, because some things you have in your program that you don’t get to do and it gets backed up, especially two days in a row,” manager Frank Robinson said. “One day is OK, but two days kind of fouls things up. You’re playing catch-up.”

It’s live pitching

A Nationals hitter, who best be left nameless, struggled to make contact against veteran left-handed reliever Joey Eischen during batting practice.

Once out of the batting cage, the player approached a teammate and said, “Man, I need the work. I can’t do anything with an inside fastball, then an outside fastball and then a breaking ball.”

Replied Eischen: “This is the big leagues. He’s supposed to be able to hit the inside fastball and the outside fastball and the curveball. My job is to execute it at my level, which is up here [in the major leagues]. I go out in my BP the same as I’m going to do in a game. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to get in the box.”

Day, Mateo signed

The Nationals came to terms on 2005 contracts with left-hander Zach Day and infielder Henry Mateo, the last two unsigned players on the 40-man roster.

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