Monday, March 27, 2006

VIERA, Fla. — Jose Guillen’s bat seems to be coming around. Now he would like to see the Washington Nationals reward him with a new contract.

Guillen took a nice step forward yesterday in his return from left shoulder and wrist injuries, clubbing two home runs off Houston Astros starter Brandon Backe in the Nationals’ 13-6 exhibition victory.

Afterward, though, he suggested he still may not be ready to play on Opening Day. Though Guillen said his shoulder and wrist both feel good, he is not in full game shape and may not want to take the chance of coming back too soon a year after trying in vain to play through serious injuries.

“I’ve got to make a good decision,” he said. “I don’t want to go through what I was going through last year. Because that was pretty risky. Hopefully this year, I just want to make sure there’s not anything bothering me. I want to do whatever I can to help this team win this year.”

There are other factors weighing on Guillen’s mind, namely his lack of a new contract. His current deal, which pays him $4 million this year, expires at the end of the season, and he has made no secret about his desire to sign a long-term extension.

Nationals general manager Jim Bowden and Guillen’s agent, Adam Katz, met last week to negotiate, but the two sides remain far apart. Guillen (.283, 24 homers, 76 RBI in 2005) believes he deserves as much as a four- or five-year contract. Considering his track record and recent injury troubles, Washington is not willing to make that kind of commitment.

With all that lingering over his spring, Guillen insists he won’t take the field until he’s absolutely sure he’s ready.

“There’s no soreness in my shoulder. There’s no soreness in my wrist,” he said. “It’s just sometimes it feels weird. I don’t know. We’ll see. When I sit down and talk to [manager] Frank [Robinson] and the doctors, I’m going to explain how I feel and hopefully make the right decision. … If I’m not 100 percent, trust me, I’m not going to put me in that situation like I was last year.”

Wild day for Soriano

Alfonso Soriano had a noteworthy game for any number of reasons.

The second baseman-turned-left fielder caught the wrath of some fans in the top of the first inning when he took a bad route on Lance Berkman’s slicing line drive to the gap. Soriano wasn’t charged with an error because he never got a glove on the ball, but he did not look comfortable on the play.

It didn’t take long for him to make up for the blunder, though. He crushed the first pitch he saw from Backe leading off the bottom of the inning to left field for his second home run in his last two games.

“When something happens in the field, there’s nothing I can do,” Soriano said. “I missed the line drive, but I had to do my job with the bat.”

Soriano’s ability to shake off one bad play so quickly was not lost on his teammates.

“When he hit that ball, I know it was a great feeling for him,” second baseman Jose Vidro said. “I know people in the stands were saying stupid things, but he managed pretty good. That’s what we want to see from him, that same attitude. Because he’s a great guy. He’s a good ballplayer, and he’s going to be good for this ballclub.”

Patterson shines again

John Patterson continues to look like he’s in midseason form. The Nationals’ No.2 starter came through with another stellar effort, striking out seven over 51/3 innings. He gave up two runs, but one was a result of Soriano’s defensive miscue.

“It was the best outing I’ve had so far,” said Patterson, who is scheduled to pitch in Friday’s exhibition against the Baltimore Orioles at RFK Stadium.

In 171/3 spring-training innings spanning four starts, Patterson has given up just those two runs on 11 hits while striking out 20.

Extra bases

One day after committing two errors at third base, rookie Ryan Zimmerman met with Robinson. The 21-year-old then responded by hitting two home runs in yesterday’s game, giving him a team-high five this spring. …

Astros outfielder Preston Wilson, formerly of the Nationals, had a rough game against his old club. Wilson went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, including a three-pitch punch-out against Patterson to open the game. Wilson is hitting just .200 this spring with 17 strikeouts in 35 at-bats.

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

submit a question, go to the Sports Page

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