- The Washington Times - Monday, April 24, 2006

Q: Through the first three weeks of the season, Royce Clayton is hitting .233 with one walk, 11 strikeouts and only six RBI. Even though he appears to be fielding well and Cristian “Mr. .190” Guzman remains injured, is Clayton running out of time to start hitting? And if the Nationals want to make a change, do they have an option? Jeff Greene

A: You’re right that Clayton hasn’t exactly been an improvement at the plate over Guzman, who, for the record, raised his batting average to .219 by season’s end. (Can you say “grasping for straws?”)

Trouble is, the Nationals really don’t have another option at shortstop at the moment. Brendan Harris could make an occasional start there, but he’s not good enough defensively to handle the position every day. The same goes for Damian Jackson.

If Clayton is still struggling a month from now, though, there could be an interesting alternative: Guzman. He’s returned to Florida for extended spring training, could begin a rehab assignment with one of the Nationals’ minor league affiliates in a few weeks and work his way off the DL before long.

Q: The Montreal Expos retired the No. 30 for Tim Raines in 2004. But Nationals reliever Mike Stanton wears the No. 30 in Washington. Are numbers formerly retired by the Expos now available for the Nationals? If so, how does “The Rock” feel about that? Eric Brotherton

A: Sadly, the Expos’ three retired jersey numbers — No. 8 (Gary Carter), No. 10 (Rusty Staub and Andre Dawson) and No. 30 (Raines) — did not make the trip across the border with the franchise last year. The Nationals initially didn’t give any of those jerseys away, but Stanton got No. 30 when he was acquired at the All-Star break and Marlon Anderson (No. 8) and Royce Clayton (No. 10) got the other two this spring.

If “Rock” Raines is upset about that, and I doubt he is, he can rest easy knowing that no Montreal Expos player will ever wear his No. 30 again. Come to think of it, I guess every former Expos player can rest easy.

Q: How are ticket sales for the Nationals this year compared to last year? — Mark Gelder

A: Not so great, but it’s hard to make any real judgments yet because they’ve only played five home games so far. And even last April, the Nationals were drawing crowds in only the mid-20,000s on weeknights.

We won’t really know whether attendance has significantly fallen off until school is out for the summer. If the nightly crowds remain at less than 30,000, that might be a slight problem. If they are more than 30,000, there won’t be many complaints.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To

submit a question, go to the Sports Page

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