- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 12, 2007

BALTIMORE — Washington Nationals manager Manny Acta hopes a flip-flop at the top of his batting order can ignite struggling second baseman Felipe Lopez.

Lopez, who entered last night mired in a 2-for-35 slump and was hitless in his last 18 at-bats, was dropped to the No. 2 position in the order. Sizzling shortstop Cristian Guzman was elevated to the leadoff spot.

“I just want to give Lopez a chance to hit behind Guzman and open a hole for him and maybe create something for him with a hit-and-run and also hit in front of Zimmerman,” Acta said. “We need to get him going. This is just a change of scenery for him.”

Guzman entered last night hitting .500 (24-for-48) in his last 11 games, a torrid stretch for a player who struggled to a .219 average and a .260 on-base percentage in 2005 for Washington and then missed all of last season with a shoulder injury.

The 29-year-old said he actually isn’t too fond of hitting leadoff, though even he wasn’t sure quite why. Nevertheless, he doesn’t anticipate making many adjustments to his approach during his time at the top of the order.

“It’s the same thing. I do the same thing. Sometimes it’s here,” Guzman said as he raised his hand high. “And things are going your way.”

As for Lopez, whose .231 average is at its lowest point since after the second game of the season, the switch could be the boost he needs to move past his recent struggles.

“He’s been a little bit overaggressive at the plate,” Acta said. “He’s trying to get out of a slump in one at-bat, and we all know it’s not going to happen that way. Hopefully, the move will help him out and recharge his batteries a little.”

Patterson works out

Right-hander John Patterson, who entered the season as the Nationals’ prohibitive ace before struggling for a month and then landing on the disabled list, threw a bullpen session at Camden Yards before yesterday’s game.

Patterson said he threw for about 12 minutes, more than a typical eight-minute session while healthy. He has been on the disabled list since May 6 with right elbow soreness and is scheduled to make a rehabilitation start for Class A Potomac on Friday.

“It feels better,” Patterson said. “It feels a little bit looser. My mechanics feel good. If I throw five curveballs, three of them are what I call acceptable. Maybe it’s better than that. Maybe I’m being hard on myself.”

Patterson was 1-5 with a 7.47 ERA in seven starts before he was sent to the disabled list, a place he spent much of last season. His past experiences have taught him not to try to set a specific timetable to return, and he was reluctant to do it in this case.

“If I said I will be back June 20, just to throw a date out there, and then I didn’t make it … it puts a lot of stress on you,” Patterson said. “You feel like you’re behind. It will unfold when it unfolds. That’s the best way to look at it. When you start putting out dates, it wears on you mentally.”

Patterson is one of three disabled Washington rotation members making rehab starts Friday. Jason Bergmann (right elbow) will go for Class AAA Columbus, and Jerome Williams (right shoulder) will pitch for Class AA Harrisburg. Acta hopes all three can return by the end of the month.

“It’s still a lot of time,” Acta said. “Hopefully they won’t have any setbacks.”

Watson streaking

Outfielder Brandon Watson of Class AAA Columbus extended his hitting streak to 39 games in yesterday’s loss to Syracuse, giving him the longest minor league streak since Louisville’s Orlando Moreno’s 43-game streak in 1961.

Watson, who rejoined the Nationals’ organization in the offseason, is three games shy of the International League record set by Rochester’s Jack Lelivelt in 1912.

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