- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2007

VIERA, Fla. — Cristian Guzman sat out all of last season, and Felipe Lopez is changing positions. Still, in what should be a work in progress, the double play combination of Guzman and Lopez is developing ahead of schedule.

“It’s working out real good, and we’ve got to give a lot of credit to Lopez because Lopez is moving full-blast forward with this,” Nationals manager Manny Acta said. “He has never second-guessed the move. He’s embraced it from day one and [is] working very had at it. I saw them yesterday turning double plays, and it looks good so far.”

For the past two days, the Nationals have been working on the double play during infield practice. The Nationals will boast a new middle infield this season with Guzman returning from injury and Lopez making the move from shortstop to second base.

“It’s not hard. Turning a double play is like you’re making one out,” Guzman said. “You make one out first, and then you see if you can make two. We’re going to do it.”

Lopez, who was acquired in an eight-player trade with the Cincinnati Reds on July 13, was the Nationals’ starting shortstop for most of the second half of last season. Lopez said spring training games will decide whether he and Guzman make a good pairing.

“The games haven’t started yet, and he’s been out and had an MRI or whatever and couldn’t throw, but we’ve been doing it for two days now,” Lopez said. “He’s a natural at it. It’s just like if I was at short with another person. It just comes natural.”

Lopez said the hardest thing for him is learning where to position himself at second, including on relays.

“I’ve played there before. I’m just trying to remember everything again,” Lopez said.

“We have a lot of communication. We talk a lot,” Lopez said. “I think that’s very important, especially up the middle. We communicate here, we get along great and the chemistry is there. If he sees something, he’ll tell me, and if I see something I’ll tell him.”

Meanwhile, Guzman has developed mild tendinitis in his surgically repaired right shoulder in the past week and has been placed on a carefully monitored throwing program. Guzman’s shoulder will limit his playing time during the early part of the exhibition season.

Guzman will serve only as designated hitter for the first few games, then will play three or four innings a game as he gradually builds up his playing time. By the final two weeks of Grapefruit League play, Guzman should be playing every day.

Home sweet home

Acta will not travel for road split-squad games. That falls on Class AAA manager John Stearns and his Columbus Clippers coaching staff.

Acta said he will keep his coaching staff intact for the home split-squad games at Space Coast Stadium and let Stearns and his staff handle all managerial duties on the road.

“I’ll have to stay here at the home stadium,” Acta said. “I think our crowd deserves that, to see our coaching staff.”

Extra bases

Today’s practice was the last workout at the Nationals’ minor league complex. With two intrasquad games today and tomorrow, Acta said he will just use Space Coast Stadium and its adjacent half field for the remainder of camp …

Both intrasquad games will be nine innings and will be called by a local umpiring crew.

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