- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 15, 2006

VIERA, Fla. — A demotion to Class AAA turned out to be a positive for the Washington Nationals’ Marlon Byrd thanks to his work with Mitchell Page.

When Byrd batted just .143 last July, he paid Page a visit. The Nationals on Aug.2 sent their muscular outfielder down to New Orleans, where Page served as the Nationals’ minor league hitting coordinator.

“[Page is] the one that put the finishing touches on it,” Byrd said. “I had an idea of what I wanted to do. We worked on it every single day.”

That work paid huge dividends. In 21 games with the Zephyrs, Byrd killed the ball. He batted .407 with five home runs, six doubles and 11 RBI in 81 at-bats. As a result, the Nationals recalled Byrd on Aug. 26.

Byrd’s bat hasn’t cooled. He hit .286 (18-for-63) in September and October. After 10 games this spring, the right-handed Byrd is hitting .355 with a .429 on-base percentage and a .645 slugging percentage.

Byrd’s reclamation under Page’s tutelage didn’t go unnoticed. Page became the Nationals’ hitting coach Jan.12, replacing Tom McCraw. Despite the huge job Page has ahead of him — resurrecting the league’s worst hitting attack — he can look at Byrd as a success.

“We started working with his [body’s] lower half and getting a handle on his lower half and to get his backside to work as a unit instead of a two-part [process] trying to get his head positioned,” said Page, who has worked closely with St. Louis sluggers Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds. “We just tried to make it one fluid motion.”

The Nationals acquired Byrd from the Philadelphia Phillies for center fielder Endy Chavez on May14. Byrd hit .266 with two home runs, 15 doubles and 26 RBI for the Nationals last season.

The Nationals believed Byrd could return to his 2003 form when he hit .303 with seven home runs and 45 RBI and finished fourth in the National League’s rookie of the year voting.

With a little more than two weeks before Opening Day, Byrd is engaged in a heated battle with Brandon Watson and Ryan Church for the Nationals’ starting center-field job. Byrd, 28, can play all three outfield positions, giving him an edge to make the roster.

If there are no serious injuries before the Nationals break camp, manager Frank Robinson can’t see how his club could carry all three, however.

“We know what Marlon Byrd can do,” Robinson said. “He can play center field, he’s played left field and he can go to right field if I so choose to put him over there, but his arm is not as strong as say Church’s and [Jose] Guillen’s, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t play right field.”

Byrd, who was given the day off yesterday against the New York Mets, has homered in his last two games. Page said Byrd has always had power, but he wants to see him hit for average. Then, Page says, the home runs will come.

“Right now, he’s getting better and better every day,” Page said. “It wasn’t an overhaul because we really haven’t changed his stance but tried to get the feel he had. We had to find what was the move or the trick that he used back in 2003 and get him back in that because he’s very powerful, but he would never get into a power position when I saw him last year. I just don’t want him to think long ball.”

Robinson said he can see the difference in Byrd’s hitting since his trip to New Orleans. Robinson said Byrd gives the team a good at-bat each time up.

“I made the adjustments with Mitch [Page], and it’s finally clicking,” Byrd said. “[The trip to the minor leagues] was not the best thing, but it was a blessing in disguise. Really, it was four at-bats a game, and it was a huge help to my swing.”

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To submit a question, go to the https://www.washingtontimes.com/sports>Sports Page

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