- The Washington Times - Friday, June 8, 2007

MINNEAPOLIS — Cristian Guzman couldn’t stop smiling yesterday.

Not that the Washington Nationals shortstop didn’t have plenty of reason to be happy. With another fabulous performance last night, he raised his season batting average to .339.

And he was back home, playing in the Metrodome for the first time since he left the Twins following the 2004 season.

Clearly, he’s having fun.

“Oh, yeah,” he said as he dressed in the visitors’ clubhouse for the first time. “It’s better when you play like that.”

Things only got better for the 29-year-old shortstop once the game began. Getting a rare chance to lead off, Guzman went 4-for-5 with a double, an RBI and three runs scored (his second four-hit game in a week). He also was greeted warmly by the Minnesota crowd when he stepped to the plate for the first time.

“I know the Minnesota fans,” he said before the game. “They’re good fans.”

Guzman’s turnaround since returning from a strained hamstring has been remarkable and has done wonders to erase the memories of his wretched 2005 season and injury-plagued 2006.

Washington manager Manny Acta insisted all along that the injuries were to blame for Guzman’s struggles. His right shoulder bothered him throughout 2005 and a year later he learned he had a torn labrum. Guzman has now been able to relax on the field, and it shows in his friendly demeanor.

“Once he’s been healthy, he’s been happy the whole time,” Acta said.

Lopez sits

One day after he was benched midgame for failing to run out a ground ball, second baseman Felipe Lopez was not in the Nationals’ starting lineup.

Acta, though, insisted it had nothing to do with Thursday’s events at RFK Stadium and instead had to do with the manager’s desire to get Ronnie Belliard in the lineup.

Lopez entered the game in a 2-for-26 slide that dropped his batting average to .240.

“He’s been up and down,” Acta said. “He’s had some good series and some bad ones and all that. And at times he looks a little frustrated. … He keeps working hard. He has a routine and he’s going to snap out of it.”

Lopez again wouldn’t comment about his disciplinary benching.

“I don’t want to talk about that,” he said.

Acta considered the matter closed.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s over,” he said.

Draft Day, Part II

The Nationals completed the 2007 draft yesterday, making their final 45 selections following their top eight picks on Thursday.

The most notable player taken yesterday was left-hander Jack McGeary, who had been projected to go as high as the first round but scared some clubs off with his intention to attend Stanford this fall.

If Washington is willing to pony up and meet McGeary’s demands for a large signing bonus (perhaps $1 million), the club could have a real find with its sixth-round pick.

Of the 53 total players the Nationals drafted, 38 came from college and only 15 from high school. The club selected 26 pitchers and 27 position players.

Want more Nats? Check out Nats Home Plate.

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