- The Washington Times - Friday, March 2, 2007

VIERA, Fla. — Travis Lee knows he has to make an impression on the field if the Washington Nationals are going to make him their starting first baseman. He also knows he can’t make a good impression on the club if he’s hurt.

But Lee is dealing with a strained right oblique muscle, and rather than risk the injury becoming serious and knocking him out for a month or more, the veteran first baseman will continue to sit out several more days before returning to action.

“I’m in a tough situation,” the 31-year-old said. “I’ve got to be healthy to try to make this team. This is not a good start, where you’re sitting here, not able to do anything. But I can’t try to make the team if I’m not healthy.”

Lee, in competition with rookie Larry Broadway and veteran Dmitri Young for a spot on the Nationals’ roster, hurt himself earlier this week when he was hitting balls off a tee. He said he felt a twinge in his right side and immediately shut himself down to avoid any further injury.

“The first couple days here, I think I overworked myself,” he said. “I think it all might have just caught up. … I just want to get this under control.”

Lee won’t be in Washington’s lineup for today’s exhibition opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers and probably won’t play until sometime next week. Broadway will get most of the playing time in his absence, with Robert Fick and Jorge Toca also seeing some action at first base.

Manager Manny Acta said Lee shouldn’t worry too much about missing the early portion of spring training and falling behind in the race.

“I’m not going to rush him back,” Acta said. “There’s still so many games left. One week is not going to make or break it for Travis Lee.”

Stadium nearly ready

Space Coast Stadium, which has been undergoing a $3 million renovation, will be ready in time for tomorrow’s home opener against the Baltimore Orioles, Nationals senior vice president of business affairs Mike Shapiro said.

Workers have spent the last week frantically installing new blue seats, a new roof covering and two canopies down each baseline. Those changes, coupled with more functional renovations to fix the clubhouses, field drainage system and water leaks in the concourses, will bring the ballpark up to the standards of the Nationals’ new owners.

Shapiro said the new-look facility will be “on par, if not better” than every other one in Florida and Arizona.

“We want the players believing that they’re coming to a first-class organization,” he said. “And the first impression they’ll get is when they come to spring training. This has to reflect the first-class nature of what we want to build this organization to become.”

Balester cracks top 100

Baseball America’s annual “Top 100 Prospects” list was revealed yesterday, and only one Nationals farmhand (pitcher Collin Balester) was included.

Balester, a lanky, 20-year-old right-hander, is ranked 95th on the list, with an estimated 2009 arrival date in the big leagues. Also ranked as the Nationals’ No. 1 prospect earlier this offseason, he’s currently pitching in the organization’s accelerated minor league program and is expected to open the season at Class AA Harrisburg.

Washington was one of three franchises to have only one player ranked in the top 100, joining the Philadelphia Phillies and Texas Rangers. The San Diego Padres had none.

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