- The Washington Times - Monday, August 14, 2006

Q: Is there any chance to sign Jose Guillen next year? Shouldn’t the Nationals make an attempt in case they can’t get Alfonso Soriano to return? I think I would rather have a healthy Guillen in left or center than Ryan Church and Alex Escobar. Or is there any talk of retaining both Soriano and Guillen, with one moving to center field? — Brian F.

A: Let’s start with the last query. That one’s not happening. Neither guy can play center field, nor do the Nationals want either to.

Guillen’s an interesting case because if Washington doesn’t re-sign Soriano, the club would be in real need of another outfielder. The question is whether anyone wants to deal with all the drama and baggage Guillen brings with him everywhere he goes.

Even if he’s healthy, though, Guillen doesn’t figure to be that hot a commodity on the free agent market this winter. In all likelihood, the best he can hope for is a minimum-salary deal with loads of incentives based on games played and performance.

Q: I have noticed that first base coaches have stopwatches, and they appear to be timing the opposing pitcher when a runner is on first base. What exactly are they timing? — Steve Backhus

A: Astute observation there. The first base coach indeed is timing the opposing pitcher, tracking how long it takes from the moment he starts his delivery until the ball crosses the plate. This is done to help runners on base decide whether they should steal.

Typically, teams want to see their pitcher get the ball to the plate in 1.3 seconds or less. More than that and opponents will be off to the races.

Q: To Mr. 2006 MLB Rookie of the Year: Do you think you can hit 20 home runs this year? — Tom

A: I assume you’re referring to Ryan Zimmerman, not Brandon Harper.

If so, the answer is yes. Zimmerman can hit 20 homers this season as long as he doesn’t go into a tailspin down the stretch. He’s sitting on 15 at the moment and hasn’t shown any signs of tiring (at least until he forgot how many outs there were in the eighth inning yesterday).

Oh, and just to clear something up: There’s no “MLB Rookie of the Year.” There’s a winner in the National League and a winner in the American League.

Q: How many of this year’s 52 draft picks have the Nationals signed, and which ones aside from first-rounders Chris Marrero and Colten Willems should we keep an eye on? — Eric Jensen

A: To date, Washington has signed only 23 draft picks, but that’s not unusual. Few low-round choices, especially high school players, sign.

What is notable is that three of the Nationals’ top six picks remain unsigned: pitcher Sean Black (second round), shortstop Stephen King (third round) and pitcher Glenn Gibson (fourth round).

Other guys to keep an eye on include outfielder Stephen Englund (second-round pick currently in the Gulf Coast League) and reliever Zechry Zinicola (who already been promoted from short season-Class A Vermont to high-Class A Potomac to Class AA Harrisburg).

One other note: Marrero hasn’t played for the last week after coming down with viral meningitis.

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