- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 7, 2006

Although Felipe Lopez’s 24 errors lead the National League, the Washington Nationals shortstop drew a compliment yesterday from a past master of the position.

Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, in town as part of Major League Baseball’s Prostate Cancer Initiative, described Lopez this way: “From everything that I hear and the little bit that I’ve seen, he could be another great [shortstop]. It depends on how hard he’s willing to work.”

After Smith threw out a ceremonial first pitch at RFK Stadium along with fellow Hall of Famers Orlando Cepeda and Juan Marichal, Lopez gave the Wizard of Oz a firsthand look at what he could do.

With nobody out and the bases loaded in the eighth inning, St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Ronnie Belliard hit a bloop into shallow center field. With his back to home plate, Lopez gave chase and lunged at the last moment to make an improbable over-the-shoulder catch.

“I was playing double-play depth, and when he hit it, I ran straight back, but the ball kept going away from me toward the second-base side, and I just had to make an adjustment,” Lopez said. “If it drops, it’s two runs.”

Smith routinely pulled off spectacular plays during his 19-year career (1978-96) with the San Diego Padres and the Cardinals. With 13 Gold Gloves, Smith was arguably the greatest defensive shortstop ever.

“I think there’s a lot to be learned,” Lopez said. “I’m always looking to improve. Coming from him, it’s a great compliment, and it makes me want to work harder next year in spring training. I’ll be working hard on defense and just learn more stealing and be consistent.”

After going 1-for-3 yesterday with two walks and a run scored, Lopez is hitting .273. He stole his 35th base of the season in yesterday’s pivotal ninth inning after leading off with a walk to set Washington’s game-winning rally in motion.

The Nationals view the 26-year-old Lopez as the club’s future shortstop. The club acquired him and outfielder Austin Kearns in a nine-player trade with the Cincinnati Reds on July13.

Pitcher Black lost

The Nationals lost the rights to right-hander Sean Black yesterday when he attended classes at Seton Hall University. Black, whom the Nationals drafted in the second round with the 59th pick overall, will not be able to re-enter the draft until after his junior season. Black’s family, especially his mother, wanted to see him go to college before turning pro.

Despite not landing Black, the Nationals are calling this a successful draft.

“We are very pleased with our 2006 draft and the fact we signed seven of our top eight selections,” general manager Jim Bowden said in a statement.

Extra bases

Closer Chad Cordero was nominated as the Nationals’ candidate for the 2006 Roberto Clemente Award, making him one of 30 finalists. The award recognizes players who best exemplify baseball through sportsmanship, community involvement and positive contributions to their teams. …

First baseman Nick Johnson played in his career-high 132nd game of the season. Johnson, who has been injury-plagued throughout most of his professional career, marked the occasion by going 2-for-3 with a double, one RBI, a walk and two runs scored. …

The Nationals named Rick Tomlin to manage the club’s Arizona Fall League team. Tomlin served this season as the pitching coach for the Class AA Harrisburg Senators.

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

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