- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2007

When Matt Chico would lie in bed at night and dream about his major league debut, this wasn’t what he had in mind.

The Washington Nationals rookie left-hander was greeted rudely by the Florida Marlins yesterday, getting tagged for six runs in four innings, including three towering home runs.

“It’s definitely a learning experience,” said Chico, who was bailed out by the Nationals’ ninth-inning rally in a 7-6 victory. “It’s not what I wanted to do coming out in my first start. But it’s something I have to deal with now, and I’m glad we came out with a win.”

Chico, 23, had never pitched above Class AA before yesterday, but he insisted he wasn’t nervous when he took the mound at RFK Stadium. He looked calm during his first inning, allowing only a two-out single, but he made his first big mistake in the second: a belt-high fastball to Cody Ross that wound up in the left-field upper deck.

One inning later, Chico was roughed up by both Miguel Cabrera and Mike Jacobs for solo homers.

“He’s going to learn with time,” manager Manny Acta said. “He didn’t make some pitches at certain times with guys he doesn’t know. We play these guys a lot in our division, so he’ll learn from his mistakes.”

Lopez to short

Three games in the books, three different starting shortstops.

But the merry-go-round should end there for the Nationals, who yesterday moved second baseman Felipe Lopez to the other side of the bag for at least the next two weeks. Veteran Ronnie Belliard will take over at second base.

“These are going to be our guys until something new comes up,” Acta said.

When starting shortstop Cristian Guzman went down with a strained left hamstring on Opening Day, the Nationals’ infield was thrown into flux. Backup Josh Wilson played the final four innings once Guzman got hurt, then started Tuesday and struggled in the field (he made one error and could have been charged with two more).

So Lopez, who made what was supposed to be a permanent switch from shortstop to second base this spring, was back at his old position yesterday against the Florida Marlins. And he will remain there until Guzman’s return, which is expected in about two weeks.

Guzman said yesterday he actually hurt himself trying to break up a double play in the third inning Monday. He tried to stay in the game but had to depart when he couldn’t run out a ground ball in the fifth.

With Guzman on the 15-day disabled list and Lopez now at shortstop, Belliard joins the starting lineup. Acta called the 31-year-old a “Gold Glove caliber” second baseman who knows his role on this club.

“I need to have good at-bats,” Belliard said. “But I need to make sure my defense is there to help this team.”

The Nationals became the first team since 2003 to use three different starting shortstops in the season’s first three games. That year, the New York Yankees used Derek Jeter, Enrique Wilson and Erick Almonte, while the Seattle Mariners used Mark McLemore, Carlos Guillen and Willie Bloomquist.

Meanwhile, Guzman’s roster spot was filled by infielder D’Angelo Jimenez, who had his contract purchased from Class AAA Columbus. The veteran utility man had a shaky spring in the field, committing five errors in 11 games, but he said he’s ready to put that behind him.

“Everything’s at zero, starting all over again,” Jimenez said. “I’m happy to be back here, and I’ll try to stay for long.”


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