- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 24, 2007

VIERA, Fla. — Mark Lerner last walked around Space Coast Stadium in early December, when the Washington Nationals’ spring training facility still looked more like the home of the Florida Marlins. The seats were teal, the exterior of the ballpark was teal and silver and certain areas were becoming structurally unsound.

When Lerner returned yesterday and saw for the first time the massive renovations that have taken place in less than three months, he could barely believe his eyes.

“It’s incredible. It looks like a whole new building,” the Nationals’ principal owner said. “I had to blink twice when I pulled up. Matt Blush has done an incredible job, and we’re delighted with it.”

Under the direction of Blush, director of capital improvements for Lerner Enterprises, Space Coast Stadium has been given a $3 million makeover.

Under the advisement of the Lerners, Brevard County footed the bulk of the bill for renovations, though the family put up about $400,000 of its own money to make sure everything got done in time for next week’s exhibition opener.

The fix-up job was necessary from the Nationals’ standpoint. The club is committed to keeping spring training here for at least 10 more years.

“I don’t know what the future will bring, but for now we’re very happy,” Lerner said. “We have a great relationship with the municipality and we’re just going to try to make it the best it can be.”

Guzman resumes throwing

Shortstop Cristian Guzman was cleared to participate fully in yesterday’s workout after being restricted from throwing or hitting for three days.

Guzman, whose surgically repaired right shoulder is still giving him some minor problems, didn’t uncork any throws but said he felt fine and is looking forward to playing his first competitive games in a year starting next week. He won’t push things, though, until he’s confident he’s completely healthy.

“You know I want to take it easy for the first couple games, two or three games,” Guzman said. “I don’t want to start it 100 percent. I don’t want to go back [to being hurt].”

Crowded outfield

Manager Manny Acta hasn’t decided yet whether to carry four or five outfielders on his Opening Day roster. The decision won’t be simple because four players fighting for spots — Ryan Church, Nook Logan, Alex Escobar and Chris Snelling — are out of minor league options and must either make the team or be placed on waivers.

Church and Logan are already penciled in as the starters in left and center fields, and Austin Kearns is assured of the right-field job. That could leave Escobar and Snelling battling for one spot on the bench.

Escobar still isn’t 100 percent after dislocating his right shoulder last August. He’ll be restricted to DH duties until March 15 or so, which could play a factor in final roster decisions.

“We are going to have to wait up until the last week of the [exhibition] season to decide that,” Acta said. “Based on the 12 pitchers we carry, we are going to have to really look into that and see if we are going to be able to carry just five pure outfielders or maybe an extra utility guy who can play outfield and infield, too.”

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