- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Jose Vidro’s two-game stint batting leadoff for the Washington Nationals is over.

All-Star outfielder Alfonso Soriano was back atop manager Frank Robinson’s batting order last night against the Florida Marlins, a move that appears to be permanent.

“I just feel this is kinda more of a long-range thing, Soriano at the top and not hitting in the third spot,” Robinson said. “He’s up there at the top because he makes things happen. Vidro to me is better in the second slot than he is leading off.”

The Nationals won both games against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in which Vidro batted first. He finished 2-for-8 with two walks, an RBI and a run. Meanwhile, Soriano went 0-for-4 with a walk Saturday, when he batted third. Robinson gave Soriano the day off Sunday.

“I feel comfortable leading off,” said Soriano, who has done so 62 times this season. “The manager makes the move because he thinks it’s better for the team.”

It paid immediate dividends against the Marlins — immediate as in the second pitch. Soriano hit a first-inning fastball from right-hander Ricky Nolasco over the 380-foot mark in left for his 25th home run of the season. He later hit a two-run homer in the fifth after entering last night without a homer in 13 straight games. Soriano finished the night 2-for-4 with four RBI, a sacrifice and two runs scored.

Showing his stuff

Hours before the game, 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Esmailyn Gonzalez conducted a skills session.

The switch-hitting Gonzalez, who signed with the Nationals and received a $1.4 million bonus Sunday, took about 20 ground balls from bench coach Eddie Rodriguez and then jumped into the batting cage.

Gonzalez, one of Latin America’s top prospects, showed some pretty slick glove work and a quick bat, but he looked every bit a teenager during the workout.

“He has good mechanics, and just like anybody else that comes into this game, he has some things to work on, and he will get good instruction in this organization,” Robinson said. “You see him in two years or so, and you won’t recognize him. I like what I see about him. For me, it’s a matter of maturing and getting a little stronger. Remember what you saw today. You’ll be able to appreciate the progress that you will see in a year or two.”

Eischen returns

Injured left-handed reliever Joey Eischen rejoined the Nationals on Sunday and had a surprise waiting in his RFK Stadium locker.

A crude, homemade red cross sign hung from the top of his locker, while various lotions were lined up neatly on a towel at the bottom of his locker. Eischen, who is out for the season after undergoing left rotator cuff surgery, plans to continue playing even though he turned 36 in May.

“I came up here to talk with [Jim] Bowden and Frank about doing my rehab here,” Eischen said. “I want to be with the team. I want to be around the guys. If I rehab here, it will give them a lot more incentive to give me a big-league invite next year and give me a chance to get my spot back on this team. I’ll be ready by spring training. Like I told my therapist and I talked to some people, I have no choice. I have to be ready by spring training.”

Extra bases

The Nationals topped 1 million in attendance this season after 38 games with last night’s crowd of 24,943. The Nationals eclipsed 1 million fans after 32 games in their first year in Washington last season. …

Soriano said he would play right field in next Tuesday’s All-Star Game. Pittsburgh’s Jason Bay and New York Mets center fielder Carlos Beltran are the NL’s other starting outfielders.

“It’s not a problem for me. It’s an All-Star Game. It’s not like I have to play the second half in right field,” Soriano said. …

Center fielder Marlon Anderson strained a rib cage muscle in the seventh inning while hitting a triple and is listed as day-to-day.

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