- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 1, 2005

VIERA, Fla. — They will be wearing their home white uniforms for the first time. Their starting lineup will include all eight projected everyday position players. And they will be playing in front of a near sell-out crowd and a national television audience.

The outcome of the game may not count, but the Washington Nationals’ exhibition opener today against the New York Mets is being treated like a regular-season opener.

Of course, when a major league ballclub representing Washington is playing its first organized game in more than 33 years, it qualifies as a momentous occasion. And the Nationals are giving today’s 1 p.m. game at Space Coast Stadium proper treatment.

The home club will wear its regular-season, white uniforms (instead of the red batting-practice jerseys that are worn through most of the spring) for the ESPN-televised game. The choice of attire and the TV coverage had Nationals players restless to get to today’s festivities.

“It’s exciting. I can’t wait,” said second baseman Jose Vidro, the franchise’s longest-tenured player. “I think we’re going to be on national TV. That’s something we didn’t have in the past [in Montreal]. I’m excited. I can’t wait to get my uniform dirty.”

Vidro, playing in his first game since undergoing knee surgery in September, will be one of eight projected Opening Day starters in manager Frank Robinson’s lineup, joining No.2 starter Tony Armas Jr.

Center fielder Endy Chavez will lead off against New York’s Tom Glavine and will be followed by shortstop Cristian Guzman and Vidro. Right fielder Jose Guillen bats fourth, ahead of left fielder Brad Wilkerson and third baseman Vinny Castilla. First baseman Nick Johnson is seventh, followed by catcher Brian Schneider and Armas.

Robinson said he won’t leave his starters in long, probably not more than three or four innings. Armas won’t even make it that far; he’s scheduled to pitch just two innings before giving way to left-handed prospect Mike Hinckley.

“The guys I feel like are going to be in the Opening Day lineup, they’re not going to be overworked in the exhibition season,” Robinson said. “This is a time for me to look at some of the guys we have to make decisions on, a time to look at some of the young guys and see what they’re capable of doing. I’ll let the veterans take over later on.”

Testing commences

Major League Baseball will begin testing players for steroids and other illegal performance-enhancing drugs tomorrow.

Nationals players haven’t spent much time going over the new rules and punishments, but they are well aware of the recent changes approved by MLB and the players union.

“Everybody pretty much knows,” said Schneider, the club’s union rep. “There’s not really much to know, except you just can’t do [steroids], period. It’s not, ‘What can you do or can’t you do?’ It’s, ‘You can’t do anything. Just follow the rules.’ ”

Under the new guidelines, a player who tests positive will be suspended 10 days. Second-time offenders will be suspended 30 days, third-time offenders 60 days and fourth-time offenders one year.

Unser, Vernon to get honored

Former Washington Senators Del Unser and Mickey Vernon will throw out ceremonial first pitches during the Nationals’ season-opening series in Philadelphia.

Unser, the right fielder in the Senators’ final game Sept. 30, 1971, and a member of the Phillies’ 1980 World Series club, will throw out the first pitch on Opening Day, April 4 at Citizens Bank Park.

Vernon, a Pennsylvanian who won the 1946 and 1953 AL batting titles with the original Senators and later managed the expansion club, will be honored before the April 6 game.

Injury update

Robinson said only two position players will be unavailable for today’s game. Infielder Henry Mateo has done little this spring while rehabbing from shoulder surgery in September. Backup catcher Gary Bennett has a strained abdomen and is day-to-day.

Right-hander Jon Rauch missed a couple of days while battling bronchitis, but he will pitch one or two innings against the Mets as scheduled. Left-handers Joey Eischen (bronchitis) and Joe Horgan (strained groin) are out but were never scheduled to pitch.

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