- The Washington Times - Friday, March 24, 2006

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Eight days before Opening Day, Washington Nationals general manager Jim Bowden feels better than he did last year at the same time.

“We had a lot more question marks in our spring training last year than we did this year,” Bowden said. “We got out of the gate, and we pitched. [Luis] Ayala, [Gary] Majewski and [Chad] Cordero won all those one-run games because our bullpen was so good. A lot has been answered. We’re better at third base with [Ryan] Zimmerman. We’re better with [Alfonso] Soriano’s bat and speed in our ballpark. We didn’t have that speed last year.”

Bowden addressed that lack of speed in the offseason, signing shortstop Royce Clayton and utility infielder Damian Jackson to provide speed off the bench. Unfortunately, Clayton has become the team’s starting shortstop because of Cristian Guzman’s shoulder injury.

“You’ve got to have speed in our ballpark,” Bowden said. “Last season … we were station to station and slow. We didn’t have any bench guys when we started the year that get in and pinch run and score. We didn’t have a good bench. We couldn’t pinch hit.”

But Guzman’s injury changes things. Bowden has hinted he may trade for another shortstop to back up Clayton because of the uncertainty surrounding Guzman’s shoulder.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do in the next week to figure it out,” Bowden said. “We still have a move or two that we may have to make. We may make a minor trade or two in the next to finish [the roster] off.”

Bowden said the Nationals will open the season with five players — Guzman, catcher/first baseman Robert Fick and pitchers Brian Lawrence, Ayala and Ryan Drese — on the disabled list.

Guzman improving

The word from the Nationals’ medical staff is that Guzman is gaining strength in his right shoulder but still will begin the season on the disabled list.

“He’s feeling better,” Bowden said. “We’re encouraged by it. It’s going to take a while to get him game ready even if he was ready to go. He’ll start the year on the disabled list without question.”

Last week, an MRI detected a small tear in Guzman’s right labrum — his throwing shoulder. The Nationals medical staff has recommended that Guzman rest for two weeks and then be re-evaluated. If Guzman has surgery, he most likely will be out for the season.

“They say Guzie is really doing well,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. “The strength is very good in his shoulder, and he’s coming along very well. He hasn’t started to throw yet, but that will be the next hurdle in his recovery.”

Guzman will learn next week whether he will need surgery and how long he will be out.

Extra bases

The Nationals hired Mark Tilson as vice president of marketing and ticket sales and Steve Ethier as director of ballpark operations. Tilson will oversee ticket sales and services, as well as marketing and advertising. Ethier, who will run operations at RFK Stadium, joins the Nationals after 14 years with the Milwaukee Brewers. …

Drese missed with his pitches yesterday in a minor league game. Drese was scheduled to pitch three innings or 45 pitches, whichever came first.

“He didn’t have good location with his pitches. That’s what [pitching coach] Randy St. Claire said, but he threw the ball with no concern,” Robinson said.

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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