- The Washington Times - Friday, March 31, 2006

Maybe Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson doesn’t want to tip his hand to the New York Mets.

Opening Day is Monday in New York, but Robinson didn’t want to show his regular lineup last night — or did he? Either way, he’s not saying.

In the first of two home-and-home exhibition games with the Baltimore Orioles, Robinson penciled in slugger Alfonso Soriano as the Nationals’ leadoff hitter with center fielder Brandon Watson second.

“It’s just fool around with the lineup and seeing how it operates and how it produces, certain guys hitting in certain spots,” Robinson said.

The Nationals have been patiently grooming Watson to be the club’s leadoff man. He won a roster spot out of spring training mostly on the strength of his leadoff skills — dragging bunting, taking pitches and hitting to the opposite field. Watson, who entered last night hitting .300 with a .351 on-base percentage, is the main reason why outfielder Ryan Church is starting the season in the minors.

Robinson, for one, says Watson is the only prototypical leadoff hitter in the organization. But where he hits doesn’t matter to Watson after seven seasons in the minors.

“With a guy in front of you, it’s that much easier,” said Watson, drafted by the franchise in 1999. “I can still lay it down and get him to second, or if I get a base hit, it’s first and second. First, second. it doesn’t matter.”

Earlier in the week in Florida, Robinson said his lineups for these exhibition games against the Orioles would probably be similar to what the Nationals will open the season with. Apparently, Robinson changed his mind.

“I promise you tomorrow you’ll see the Opening Day lineup,” Robinson said of the second leg of the Orioles exhibitions tonight at Camden Yards.

Washington Nationals general manager Jim Bowden certainly didn’t trade outfielders Brad Wilkerson, Terrmel Sledge and a top pitching prospect to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Soriano to hit leadoff.

Robinson said it’s a fair assumption that Watson is the regular leadoff man.

“It’s safe to say,” Robinson said. “Is it safe that’s going to happen? No.”

Guzman update

Injured shortstop Cristian Guzman continues to make strides rehabilitating his right shoulder. However, Guzman’s positive progress does not necessarily rule out likely season-ending surgery to repair a SLAP tear in his throwing shoulder.

“He’s making progress, he threw without pain, we’re guardedly optimistic,” Bowden said. “We’ll continue to monitor, we should know more in another week. Well, the way he’s going, he hasn’t had any setbacks, so it’s certainly a possibility that we might be able to avoid surgery at this point.”

Guzman, who hit .219 last season, has thrown just once since being diagnosed with a torn labrum suffered during spring training.

“He’s getting stronger, but he’s only thrown once and that was kind of soft toss,” Robinson said. “Now, on his days off, he continues to condition whatever, and treatment. I think he still has a ways to go to prove that he doesn’t really need surgery. After that, I think he would still have to play some baseball to see how that shoulder holds up.”

Guillen’s contract

Slugger Jose Guillen expects to have a long-term contract extension in place by Opening Day. The star right fielder set a self-imposed Opening Day deadline, or he wouldn’t sign a contract extension during the season.

While both parties have held talks in the past few days, it’s unlikely a deal will be reached by Monday. To further emphasize his position, Guillen belted a game-tying, two-run double in the third inning.

“That’s not going to do any good, what’s a deadline? Stop it,” Bowden said. “Deadlines don’t change deals. We’re not going to do a bad deal because a player has a deadline. I don’t like deadlines.”

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

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