- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 30, 2007

PITTSBURGH — Desperate to get some production out of his stale offense, Washington Nationals manager Manny Acta trotted out a new-look lineup for last night’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Felipe Lopez, who had hit in one of the top two spots in every game he played this season, was bumped down to the 7-hole for the first time, with Ronnie Belliard moved up to No. 2.

“Basically, we’re trying to create something, some way to improve the offense here,” said Acta, whose club averaged only 2.3 runs over its last eight games.

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Lopez has been one of the biggest disappointments, his .238 average and .287 on-base percentage ranking among the worst on the roster. Washington’s Opening Day leadoff hitter was dropped to No. 2 two weeks ago but showed few signs of improvement.

Lopez, a career .259 hitter, is confident he’ll turn things around during the season’s second half.

“I’m not a .230 hitter, that’s for sure,” he said. “At the end of the year, it’s not going to be .230 or .250 or .260, I promise.”

Acta doesn’t believe Lopez’s demotion to the bottom third of his lineup will be a permanent move. With Cristian Guzman out for the season, the Nationals have no natural leadoff hitter. Center fielders Ryan Langerhans and Nook Logan are being used in the role right now, but Acta doesn’t see that being the case for the long haul.

“To me right now, with the people we have here the ideal guy to be a leadoff guy here is Felipe Lopez,” the manager said. “We’re just hoping he can put it back together and he’ll be leading off again.”

Bergmann starts tonight

Some miscommunication between Acta and reporters led to a mistake in this weekend’s pitching matchups. Jason Bergmann, not Jason Simontacchi, will start tonight’s game against the Pirates.

Bergmann, who threw four strong innings Monday night in Atlanta in his first start off the disabled list, will remain on a normal, five-day schedule. The right-hander said his previously inflamed elbow feels “great” following his 76-pitch outing, and he should be able to throw about 85 to 90 tonight.

Left-hander Mike Bacsik will start tomorrow’s series finale. Simontacchi, who last pitched Sunday against the Cleveland Indians, will get seven full days of rest before returning to the mound Monday against the Chicago Cubs at RFK Stadium.

Hill rejoins club

Shawn Hill rejoined the Nationals yesterday and plans to resume his throwing program today after receiving a cortisone injection in his injured right elbow.

Hill, who hasn’t pitched since May 11, was shut down last week and sent to Birmingham, Ala., to be examined by orthopedist James Andrews (who performed ligament replacement surgery on him three years ago). Andrews found no new problems and told Hill he could resume his rehabilitation program this weekend.

Because he already had been throwing extensively before this latest setback, Hill won’t be starting from scratch when he resumes his program.

“It’s kind of frustrating starting up and shutting down, starting up and shutting down,” he said. “But at the same time, because I have thrown and got to the bullpen and started playing long toss again, it’s not like I’ve been off for a month and a half solid. It’s not like I’m going to lose a whole lot of arm strength over that time. So it shouldn’t take me three full weeks to get through the throwing program.”

Hill’s left shoulder (which he briefly popped out of its socket diving into third base in April) is strong enough to pitch, though he said it still bothers him when swinging a bat. Hill said there’s a chance he could need surgery during the offseason.

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