- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 20, 2008

MIAMI — Felipe Lopez isn’t the Washington Nationals’ regular second baseman — at least not yet. But it sure looks like manager Manny Acta is giving him every chance to win the job.

Acta had planned to start Lopez at shortstop last night, one night after he went 3-for-5 with two runs and a stolen base while batting leadoff and playing second base. But the top-of-the-order combination of Lopez and Cristian Guzman worked so well that Acta decided to leave the lineup intact.

“We do have the right to change our minds,” Acta said.

Though Lopez made two errors in last night’s 6-5 loss, he went 2-for-4 with a walk and another run. His batting average has jumped 81 points in this series.

Acta said he met with Guzman after Friday’s 6-4 win over the Florida Marlins, and the shortstop told him he didn’t need a day off yet. He might get one today, with Lopez spelling him at shortstop for this afternoon’s game.

But the Lopez-Guzman combination — both players got on base in the first inning Friday and yesterday — seems to have some promise. Each player is a switch hitter, can provide occasional power and be disruptive on the basepaths.

“That’s what I do. Get on base, steal and score runs,” Lopez said. “When you have a lot of speed on the bases, all of a sudden the other pitchers don’t want to throw off-speed in the dirt to the third and fourth guy. It gives them more pitches to hit and drive.”

Lopez, who entered the season backing up Ronnie Belliard, isn’t assuming the string of starts will get him his job back. He knows, however, he can make a strong case over the next few days.

“Maybe when I’m 35 or something, I’ll accept [coming off the bench],” said Lopez, who is 27. “But right now, that’s not me and I know it. That’s not who I want to be right now. … Obviously, this team needs some kind of change. I think I bring a lot of energy on the basepaths, putting pressure on the other team, and I think my teammates are going to feed off of it.”

Cordero’s velocity back

After several days of working out and playing long toss, there is still nothing to convince reliever Chad Cordero that his outing Wednesday — when he couldn’t get his fastball above 80 mph against the New York Mets — was anything other than a combination of cold weather and a short warm-up. His performance in his first outing since confirmed that idea last night..\

Cordero reached 86 and 85 mph on the Dolphin Stadium radar gun with his first two pitches in the seventh inning. He faced two batters, allowing a single by Jorge Cantu and retiring Cody Ross on a grounder.

“I had to get up quick again, but I think the warmer weather helped me out,” Cordero said. “Once I got on the mound, everything felt good.”

Jon Rauch is still the Nationals’ closer for now, but Acta said Cordero could go back to pitching “in more important situations” after one more outing.

Cordero, who missed the first two weeks of the season with shoulder tendinitis, said he is not feeling any pain in his throwing arm and doesn’t think there is anything else structurally wrong with it. If anything, he said, he just needs to rebuild his arm strength.

“Maybe the tendinitis might have taken away some strength in it. I’m just trying to get it all back,” Cordero said. “The other day [against the Mets] was a weird situation.”

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