- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 23, 2006

JUPITER, Fla. — Jose Guillen just needs a little more time to get down his timing.

In his second game yesterday against the St. Louis Cardinals, Guillen went 0-for-3. He did drive in the Nationals’ first run of the game with a chopping groundout to third.

Guillen, who has spent almost all of spring training rehabilitating his surgically repaired left shoulder, played seven innings. He is hitless in five at-bats this spring with three groundouts to third, but the Nationals’ top offensive threat from a year ago said it won’t be long.

“I’m getting there,” Guillen said. “As long as I see a lot of pitches, my timing is going to get there. I was happy to hit a [long] foul ball. That was the first one. OK, my power is probably still there, but I feel fine. Right now, I feel like I’m swinging at most balls, and my timing is not there. I just have to hit one and then hit one harder.”

Guillen, 29, was a huge part of the Nationals’ offense last season. The right-fielder led the Nationals in runs (81), hits (156), total bases (264), home runs (24) and RBI (76).

Guillen called his groundouts to third base a positive sign: He’s out in front of the ball. With 10 exhibition games left, Guillen remains confident he will get his sweet stroke going.

“You can lay on pitches, so that’s a good thing,” he said. “My bat speed is right there. I’m just way in front on all those pitches.”

Denney hit hard

Right-hander Kyle Denney’s line yesterday won’t read like a masterpiece — four runs on six hits in three innings — but he wasn’t as bad as his line indicated. Only three runs were earned.

Denney enticed St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols, possibly the best all-around hitter in the game, to ground into an inning-ending double play in the first. Four-time All-Star third baseman Scott Rolen went 0-for-2 against Denney.

In the third inning, Pujols showed why he’s such a great hitter and lined a double into center field to score two runs.

“He’s one of the best, if not the best, hitter in baseball,” said Denney, whose spring record dropped to 0-2. “As a pitcher, regardless who is in there, you locate the ball. He’s not Superman, but he’s pretty close. In that second at-bat we battled, had a pretty long at-bat and I stayed in a sequence on him, and you can’t do that against a guy like that.”

Denney was only going to pitch three innings yesterday regardless of his success, because the relievers scheduled behind him needed work.

Winning a job

Alberto Castillo was the starting catcher for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic.

Now he’s locked in a battle with two other catchers to win a roster spot with the Nationals. Wiki Gonzalez (.444) and Mike DiFelice (.387) are hitting the ball well this spring, and Castillo may need to beat out both to earn a job.

“They know what I can do and what I can not do,” Castillo said. “I’m here to do my duties. Whatever comes up, it’s part of the business. [General manager] Jim Bowden and Frank Robinson, they’ve see me play before, so they know what my duty is. I’ve been in the majors seven or eight years, and I’ve been a backup all the time.”

Extra bases

Nationals right-hander Pedro Astacio easily turned in his best performance this spring in a minor league game at the Nationals’ Viera, Fla., spring training complex. Facing Houston Astros minor leaguers, Astacio pitched six shutout innings and allowed just two hits. Astacio struck out seven and walked just one. Closer Chad Cordero also appeared in the game and pitched a scoreless inning. …

Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells made a guest appearance at yesterday’s game. Parcells and St. Louis manager Tony La Russa are close friends. Two Cardinals Hall of Famers, pitcher Bob Gibson and outfielder Lou Brock, also were spotted at Roger Dean Stadium.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To submit a question, go to the Sports Page

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