- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2007

VIERA, Fla. — Felipe Lopez was an All-Star shortstop with the Cincinnati Reds, so he might have taken offense when the Washington Nationals asked him to move to second base this winter.

Lopez, though, didn’t just agree to the position switch. He embraced it.

“It’s not like they’re asking me to move to the outfield where I’ve never played,” he said. “Second base, I’ve played there before. I feel comfortable. It’s a position that I can adjust to rather quickly and work hard and do the best I can do.”

Lopez, who reported to camp yesterday, has been practicing at second base for a while now. He spent much of the last month working out in Orlando, Fla., with a group of major leaguers that included World Series MVP David Eckstein.

Manager Manny Acta, a former infielder, said he believes Lopez will have no trouble with the switch and predicts even better things from his new leadoff hitter.

“I’m anticipating that Lopez is going to be a tremendous second baseman,” Acta said. “Everybody who moves from shortstop to second becomes better automatically.”

Of course, there’s still a remote chance Lopez could move back to shortstop if Cristian Guzman’s surgically repaired right shoulder doesn’t heal in time for Opening Day. Lopez remains the primary alternative to Guzman, with newly signed second baseman Ronnie Belliard then taking over his spot.

Johnson’s bone still healing

Nationals team doctor Ben Shaffer examined the latest X-rays of Nick Johnson’s right leg and said the first baseman’s broken femur still is visible.

“It’s not completely healed,” Shaffer said. “But it has shown progress.”

Johnson, who was injured Sept. 23 after colliding with teammate Austin Kearns, remains far from returning to Washington’s lineup. He has begun taking long walks and riding a stationary bicycle but continues to feel soreness and occasional pain in his leg.

Shaffer, who originally predicted Johnson would make a full recovery in time for the start of spring training, said the 28-year-old’s slow progress can be attributed to the fact he is a slow healer. Upon arriving to camp this week, Johnson targeted a June return to the majors, but Shaffer yesterday said it remains too soon to come up with a specific timetable.

“You know, I’ve made predictions which have not exactly come true, so I’m reluctant to give you an exact date,” he said. “Is it possible the fracture could be healed enough for him to really start pushing it in April? Yes, it’s possible. Could it be May or, as he pointed out, June? Yes, it could be.”

Extra bases

A strong wind coupled with below-average temperatures again made for difficult conditions on the practice fields yesterday. Acta cut short his team’s workout and will save bunting and baserunning drills for another day.

“I didn’t think their mind was going to be into it,” the manager said. “It was just too rough of a day out there for that.” …

All position players either reported to Space Coast Stadium or informed the club they arrived in town yesterday. They will take physicals today, and the first full-squad workout is set for tomorrow.

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