- The Washington Times - Monday, April 3, 2006

NEW YORK — If the Washington Nationals thought they were going to be able to hide Alfonso Soriano in left field, they were wrong.

In his first major league game as an outfielder yesterday, Soriano found himself right in the middle of the action — in the field and on the basepaths. He successfully caught four fly balls hit to him in the Nationals’ 3-2 loss to the New York Mets, including one in the corner in foul territory. But he got a bad jump on a shallow fly ball in the sixth that turned into a single and also looked uncomfortable throwing the ball back to the infield a few times.

“Everything that’s happened, I put in the past,” Soriano said. “I try to do my best.”

At the plate, Soriano went 2-for-3 with a walk and was at the center of the game’s biggest play. Trying to score from first on Ryan Zimmerman’s eighth-inning double, Soriano was called out by first-base umpire Tim Tschida on a close play at the plate.

“I think my hand was in,” he said. “But I have to see [the replay].”

The Nationals know it is going to be an adventure with Soriano in left. He had less than two weeks to learn his new position this spring after returning from the World Baseball Classic and then briefly refusing to make the move from second base.

Manager Frank Robinson will let Soriano grow into his new position but only to an extent. Robinson said before yesterday’s game that he plans to bring in a defensive replacement for Soriano when the Nationals have a lead late in games.

Backup outfielder Marlon Byrd would be the likely replacement.

Guillen healthy, not wealthier

Jose Guillen started in right field for the Nationals without the new contract extension he’s seeking but with a positive attitude about his chances for a healthy season.

After missing much of spring training with right shoulder and wrist injuries, Guillen declared himself healthy enough to play yesterday. Then again, given his stubbornness about playing time in the past, that shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

Robinson said he doesn’t feel the need to take things easy with Guillen as he comes back from his injuries.

“I don’t do anything with Jose Guillen but write his name down in the lineup until he tells me he can’t play,” he said. “And I don’t see him doing that. I don’t plan to have an easy workload schedule for him. If something’s wrong, he’ll come tell me. If not, his name goes down in the lineup.”

Despite Guillen’s hopes for a new contract before Opening Day, negotiations stalled in the last week. Guillen, who is making $4 million in the final season of his current deal, is seeking a five-year deal worth as much as $10 million a season. The Nationals are believed to have offered him a four-year deal worth about $7 million a season.

Though Guillen suggested this spring he wouldn’t be willing to negotiate during the season, general manager Jim Bowden wouldn’t rule out that possibility yesterday.

“Obviously, if the club can ever make a deal that helps the organization, we’re always open to that,” Bowden said. “But our focus right now is on trying to win games and to continue trying to improve the team.

Drese getting start

Injured right-hander Ryan Drese will start Sunday’s game at the Houston Astros. Drese, who is on the 15-day disabled list while rehabilitating from offseason shoulder surgery, is eligible to come off the DL on Saturday.

“We’ll move people up,” Robinson said. “[Drese has] been fine up until now. The last time out he was good.”

Drese, who was 3-6 with a 4.98 ERA in 11 starts last season with the Nationals, is more important now that Pedro Astacio has been placed on the 15-day DL. Drese was scheduled to throw about 75 pitches in a minor league game yesterday at the club’s Viera, Fla., spring training facility.

“He’s a good option for us,” Robinson said. “If he had been healthy, he probably would have been in the rotation in the first place. He’s the best option right now for us.”

The Nationals will put Drese into the No. 5 spot after Livan Hernandez, John Patterson, Ramon Ortiz and Tony Armas Jr.

Fick almost there

First baseman/catcher Robert Fick said he will begin a rehab assignment once this opening series against the New York Mets ends Thursday. Fick had right elbow surgery to remove bone chips during spring training and was placed on the disabled list March 27, retroactive to March 24.

Fick started hitting off a tee yesterday for the first time and has been throwing hard without pain. He said he’s going to take batting practice tomorrow and Thursday with the team here at Shea Stadium and then leave to begin his rehab assignment. Where Fick will rehab is undecided.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To submit a question, go to the Sports Page


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