- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Growing up in Thomasville, Ga., Levale Speigner watched the Atlanta Braves every time he got the chance, rooting for Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, John Smoltz and the rest of “America’s Team.”

So when the 26-year-old rookie makes his first career start tonight against the Braves, he may have to remind himself not to gawk at his childhood heroes standing the batter’s box. Speigner, though, seems to have a handle on the situation.

“Growing up in South Georgia, they were obviously the team I watched,” he said. “But I’m not worried about them being my idols or anything like that. I’m worried about my job, and that’s trying to get them out.”

Speigner does acknowledge he will be a little more amped-up for his first major league start, which comes after 12 relief appearances over the last six weeks. The right-hander, a Rule 5 draftee this winter, has enjoyed modest success to date, going 1-0 with a 3.77 ERA in 141/3 innings.

The few problems he has had have come when he’s suddenly lost control, something that happened last week in Chicago when he walked three batters with the bases loaded. Speigner explained what he must do to prevent that from happening again.

“I’m trying to play it as low-key as possible,” he said. “I don’t want to pitch with emotion. I want to be aggressive and intense, but I don’t want to be emotional. From the past, that hasn’t worked for me.”

Manager Manny Acta decided to give Speigner the nod to replace the injured Shawn Hill in the rotation for now. He started and relieved in the minors, and now he will get at least a two-start tryout before the club makes a permanent decision.

“If he doesn’t have a good one, we’re not going to be looking for someone else right away,” Acta said. “Maybe two. That’ll buy some time for the other guys who are coming back.”

They’re not booing

As good as the Nationals’ pitching has been for the last week-plus, there has been perhaps no more pleasing development than the productive return of Cristian Guzman to the lineup.

Guzman, who missed more than a month with a strained hamstring after missing all of 2006 with a shoulder tear, entered last night’s game against the Braves batting .357 (10-for-28) since coming off the disabled list May 6.

He also had triples in his last two games, a staple of his game when he played in Minnesota but something Nationals fans had seen little of since he arrived here in 2005.

“He’s a live body that was missing here,” Acta said. “Unfortunately, he had that rough season in 2005, and people haven’t been able to enjoy [him] here. But those are the things he brings to the table.”

Fans at RFK Stadium are beginning to enjoy it, though. After Guzman picked up his second hit off Smoltz on Monday night, he was greeted with a loud cheer of “Guuuuz,” a far cry from the boos he grew accustomed to hearing two years ago.

Approached by reporters before yesterday’s game, Guzman declined to stop and talk.

Extra bases

First baseman Dmitri Young was out of the lineup for the sixth straight game last night and is expected to be out again tonight with a sore left Achilles tendon. Young took grounders during batting practice, though, and informed Acta he was ready to return. The manager decided to ease him back in. …

Smoltz, who dislocated his right pinky finger Monday night when he tagged Washington’s Austin Kearns, said he hopes to make his next scheduled start but admitted he may have to skip a turn in the rotation.

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