- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 2, 2008

As much hope as can be extracted from one inning of one baseball game in a 162-game season, the Washington Nationals got it in the second inning on Friday night.

Shortstop Alberto Gonzalez, acquired from the New York Yankees just over a day before, led off the inning with a double down the right field line. Two batters later, the Nationals’ other new acquisition - second baseman Emilio Bonifacio - singled up the middle to drive in Gonzalez.

Then Bonifacio stole second, rattled Reds starter Homer Bailey walked Willie Harris and Elijah Dukes brought them both in with a double, giving the Nationals five runs in two innings, or only four less than they scored in six games on the West Coast last week.

It was only a brief glimpse of what Washington hopes to receive from the two middle infielders, but it was worth something.

Washington is banking on Bonifacio and Gonzalez to be part of its middle infield for the foreseeable future, and in the case of Bonifacio, they believe they have a fixture in their lineup. Whatever momentum the two can provide during the final two months of the season will help test that theory.

“This is August, not September, where they’re going to be facing call-ups just like them,” manager Manny Acta said. “This gives us more time, more at-bats, more innings for us to make a better decision going into next year.”

The team is interested to see how Bonifacio does because the Nationals’ front office believes he can be a successful leadoff hitter for years. He has struck out more than 100 times in three of his six professional seasons but has reduced that total this year with 30 walks in 98 games across three levels.

That, combined with the 23-year-old’s speed, has the Nationals excited about his prospects.

“One of the things that he does is he doesn’t try to play the big man’s game,” Acta said. “He’s not afraid to bunt every single day if he has to, and he sticks by it. He knows that’s his weapon.”

Bonifacio has stolen 40 or more bases in each of his last four professional seasons and Acta said he can run at will.

“It’s pretty important to have a guy on your team that can play fast and put some pressure on the defense,” Bonifacio said.

Gonzalez, who went 1-for-2 with two walks Friday, isn’t as gifted offensively as Bonifacio and likely will be a smaller part of the Nationals’ plans because Cristian Guzman is signed for two years. But his speed and glove impressed assistant general manager Mike Rizzo - who was with the Diamondbacks when they signed him in 2002 - enough for him to be at least a reserve infielder in the future.

”It was a little bit surprising when I was traded to the Nationals [on Thursday],” Gonzalez said; Bonifacio, who played two seasons with him in the Diamondbacks’ minor league system, served as his interpreter. “But I’ve got to be happy about it, too, because they sent me straight to the major leagues.”

And for the rest of this season, he and Bonifacio will get plenty of chances to see whether they can continue the energy they provided on Friday night.

“Those two kids, it was a great move by the team,” said Odalis Perez, who got his sixth win Friday. “Bonifacio might be the fastest runner in baseball. They turned a great double play. It was good.”

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