- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 22, 2006

VIERA, Fla. — He can see clearer, he’s eight pounds lighter and he has a sudden case of amnesia. The amnesia part is a good thing. It’s better for shortstop Cristian Guzman to just forget everything about last season.

The Washington Nationals’ $16.8 million shortstop arrived to spring training early yesterday and vowed that fans will see a “new” Guzman this season.

It certainly can’t get any worse.

Last year, Guzman’s first season in the National League, he hit just .219 — the lowest of all starting shortstops in baseball.

“Last year was bad, this year it’s 2006 and everything is new,” he said. “Everybody is going to know the Guzman of a couple years ago. I forgot last year; it’s past.”

Guzman said he underwent laser eye surgery on Oct. 5, just after his disastrous first season in Washington. Not being able to see the ball may have contributed to Guzman’s paltry batting average.

Guzman, 27, said he wore contact lenses during the season and couldn’t see the ball very well. There was nothing in Guzman’s past to indicate he would have fallen off so dramatically from a .266 career hitter after six seasons in Minnesota.

“It doesn’t matter what people say, they’re going to enjoy the new Guzie this year,” Guzman said. “I’ve got something … I’ve got a little surprise for them. My vision is better, a lot better.”

Club officials were mortified watching Guzman struggle last season. To avoid a repeat of last season, the Nationals signed 15-year veteran Royce Clayton as an insurance policy in case it wasn’t a one-year aberration.

With Clayton in the mix at short, the Nationals are making Guzman earn his job in spring training.

Maybe Clayton is just a psychological ploy used by the club to motivate Guzman. Either way, it doesn’t faze the club’s light-hitting shortstop.

“That doesn’t work for me. They can bring [in Derek] Jeter. This is the new Guzie right now,” he said.

During batting practice, the switch-hitting Guzman sprayed line drives all over the field, making pretty good contact on the ball, something not seen a lot last season.

And Guzman was all smiles yesterday, a happier player returning from a dreadful season.

“I’m the same player, nothing different,” he said. “When you struggle all year like that, you have to be strong to be happy every day.”

A fickle situation

Robert Fick, who is being considered for the team’s backup catcher and first base spots, is being shut down for a few days to rest his sore right elbow.

Fick did not participate in throwing drills yesterday. He had X-rays on his throwing elbow and underwent treatment. Results of Fick’s X-rays were unavailable last night.

The Nationals signed Fick to a one-year, $850,000 contract in the offseason.

“I’ve never had an elbow problem ever,” he said. “I did it lifting too much this offseason.”

More early arrivals

Guzman and outfielders Marlon Byrd, Tyrell Godwin and Brandon Watson were the latest position players to report to camp early yesterday. All position players are expected to be in camp by tomorrow.

For Watson, this is the biggest spring training of his young career. The Nationals are giving him an opportunity to win the starting center fielder and leadoff jobs.

These latest arrivals bring the number of position players who reported to camp early to 16.

Extra bases

The Nationals announced yesterday that individual tickets for Opening Day and the regular season will go on sale March 4 at 10 a.m. Prices range from $7 to $45. The Nationals also will offer nine premium-priced games for Opening Day and three popular home series — May 19-21 (Baltimore), June 16-18 (New York Yankees) and June 21-23 (Chicago Cubs). Premium tickets cost $5 to $10 more than the average single-game ticket, depending on the section. Fans may purchase tickets by calling 1-888-632-6287, visiting the RFK Stadium Box Office or on the Internet at nationals.mlb.com … The club secured a visa for Dominican reliever Felix Rodriguez yesterday and the veteran right-hander is expected in camp tomorrow.

Got a question about the Nats?

Mark Zuckerman has the answers. The Times’ beat reporter for the

Nationals will respond to your questions on-line and in print each

Monday, beginning Feb. 27. Send questions to Mark at natsmailbag [AT] washingtontimes.com

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