Wednesday, March 1, 2006

VIERA, Fla. — Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson unveiled his lineup for today’s exhibition opener, and one name was conspicuously absent: Alfonso Soriano.

Actually, Soriano won’t play in either of the Nationals’ first two exhibition games before leaving to play in the World Baseball Classic.

“We have other people to look at this early in the spring,” Robinson said.

That may sound like an excuse to deflect any Soriano controversy until he returns to the club in three weeks, but there’s more to it than that. Soriano himself said yesterday he’s not physically ready to play in games, so he has no problem with Robinson’s decision.

“I’m OK with that because I’m not ready yet. And he’s the manager,” Soriano said following his fifth workout of the spring. “My body, I’m not feeling it. I’m not comfortable at the plate. I need a couple more days to see how I’m feeling.”

Soriano said he typically needs a week or more each spring to get into baseball shape because he doesn’t do much during the offseason. He’s due to start playing second base for the Dominican Republic in the WBC on Monday and said he expects to be ready by then.

Soriano has worked out exclusively as a second baseman during spring training, even though the club ultimately wants him to move to left field. A published report said Soriano worked out in center field Monday, but he was only shagging flies, no different than anyone else on the roster.

That said, Soriano has appeared to be a model citizen since his arrival in Viera, and he already has taken a liking to his new manager.

“Before I met him, I had a lot of respect,” Soriano said. “Now that I’ve met him, I have more.”

Lineup set

Soriano won’t be the only regular sitting out today’s game against the Kia Tigers, a team from Korea. Second baseman Jose Vidro, right fielder Jose Guillen and catcher Brian Schneider also are out of the lineup.

Robinson’s starting nine (including a designated hitter): Center fielder Brandon Watson, second baseman Damian Jackson, right fielder Ryan Church, first baseman Nick Johnson, left fielder Marlon Byrd, designated hitter Michael Tucker, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, catcher Matt LeCroy and shortstop Cristian Guzman.

Right-hander John Patterson will start for Washington and pitch three innings or 35 pitches, whichever comes first. He will be followed on the mound by Chad Cordero, Mike Bacsik, Joe Horgan and Saul Rivera.

Robinson said he likely will field more of a veteran lineup, including Vidro, tomorrow when the Nationals face their first major league team of the spring, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Guillen not ready

Guillen, who continues to rehab from offseason shoulder surgery, has yet to participate fully in camp and said he hopes to be playing in games by the middle of March. That would give him two weeks to prepare for Opening Day.

If he’s not ready by March 15 or so, Guillen said he probably will have to open the season on the disabled list.

“Hopefully, I’ll be able to play the last two weeks of the spring,” he said. “If I get that, I’ll be ready. If I don’t, then I believe I’m going to miss a little bit of time. … But it’s not in my mind that I’m going to miss any time. I’m fully confident that I’m going to be ready Opening Day.”

Extra bases

Pedro Astacio, who signed a one-year, $700,000 contract Monday night with the Nationals, will undergo his physical (including MRIs on both his right shoulder and elbow) today and is expected to be in uniform tomorrow. General manager Jim Bowden said the 36-year-old right-hander, who will be battling for one of three open spots in the rotation, has been working out on his own and should not be behind the rest of Washington’s pitchers this spring. …

The Nationals’ starting rotation following Patterson: Ramon Ortiz (tomorrow vs. the Pirates), Tony Armas (Friday vs. the Pirates), Andrew Good (vs. Panama) and Billy Traber (vs. the Mets) on Saturday and Jon Rauch (Sunday vs. the Orioles). …

The Nationals named Spin Williams as player development and scouting pitching advisor. Williams, 49, previously spent 27 years with the Pittsburgh Pirates’ organization, the last five as pitching coach.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To

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