- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 23, 2006

VIERA, Fla. — Washington Nationals utility player Robert Fick has bone chips in his right elbow, an injury that likely will require surgery next winter but one Fick believes he can play with all season.

X-rays taken Tuesday on Fick’s elbow revealed loose “gravel” floating around. The club will attempt to ease the pain by giving Fick regular injections, and he’s determined to make it through a 162-game schedule.

“I don’t have a choice,” he said. “I’m not having surgery. I’ll be fine. Whatever it is, they say it’ll go away with the medicine. I’ve dealt with pain before.”

Fick was held out of spring-training drills again yesterday, and it’s uncertain when he will return to full action. He said he first felt pain in his elbow over the winter, and it only got worse once he arrived for camp.

“I noticed it when I started doing baseball things,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to believe because I’ve never had elbow problems.”

Even if Fick manages to avoid the disabled list, his injury could alter the way the Nationals decide to use him. The club has considered making the versatile 31-year-old its No. 2 catcher behind Brian Schneider, but a sore elbow could make life difficult behind the plate.

Fick, who signed a one-year, $850,000 free agent contract with Washington in December, also can play first base and both corner outfield positions.

Meanwhile, right-hander Brian Lawrence (shoulder stiffness) may resume his normal bullpen throwing session today after cutting his first one short and sitting out his next scheduled one.

Leadoff job wide open

Though it would appear to be one of the Nationals’ major concerns this spring, manager Frank Robinson said he’s not concerned yet about finding a leadoff hitter.

“We’ll get a leadoff hitter,” Robinson said. “That’s my least worry right there.”

Robinson said he will try a number of candidates atop his lineup during the exhibition season. Though rookie outfielder Brandon Watson would appear to be the early favorite, Robinson is willing to look at just about anybody, including Ryan Church, Marlon Byrd and even Cristian Guzman. He ruled out Nick Johnson and Jose Vidro as possibilities.

Given his awful 2005 season, Guzman would seem an odd choice, but he has experience as a leadoff hitter with the Minnesota Twins. And as Robinson said, “You can always drop a guy down in the order.”

Watson, who is attempting to make the Opening Day roster after hitting .355 with 31 stolen bases at Class AAA New Orleans a year ago, is the only prototypical leadoff hitter among the bunch, and Robinson said he will hit first whenever he’s in the lineup this spring.

If Watson fails to win the center field job, though, Church figures to wind up in that spot. And even though he’s more of a run producer than a table-setter, he said he gladly would welcome the challenge of leading off.

“It’s better than the alternative,” Church said. “As long as I’m in the lineup. I just want at-bats, and leading off, you can get a load of them.”

Soriano due today

Second baseman-turned-outfielder Alfonso Soriano has arrived in town and is expected to report to camp with the rest of the Nationals’ position players today.

Robinson doesn’t intend to waste time before holding his much-anticipated first meeting with the recently acquired slugger, who to date has said he does not want to switch positions.

Including Soriano, nine position players had not reported as of yesterday, including second baseman Jose Vidro, infielders Marlon Anderson, Royce Clayton and Tony Blanco and outfielder Alex Escobar.

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 @ washingtontimes.com


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