Sunday, February 17, 2008

VIERA, Fla. — Manny Acta pointed out how much can change over the course of six weeks at spring training. But the Washington Nationals manager also comes to camp with pre-existing opinions on all of his players, so he didn’t hesitate yesterday to declare Dmitri Young, Cristian Guzman and Ronnie Belliard starters ahead of Nick Johnson and Felipe Lopez… for now.

Asked whether he already has formulated a starting lineup in his mind, Acta admitted he’s going into camp with Guzman as his shortstop and leadoff hitter, Belliard as his second baseman and Young as his first baseman.

That leaves Johnson, who is attempting to return from the broken leg he suffered in Sept. 2006, and Lopez, who is coming off a subpar season, projected as reserves at this early stage of the spring.

“But at the end of camp, who knows with the Lopez situation?” Acta said. “Lopez could come into camp and show us he’s the Lopez that we all envision and could end up leading off…. We’re going to give Felipe Lopez every chance in spring training to win a job, whether it’s at second or short.”

The same applies for Johnson, who must prove to team officials he is back in baseball shape before he can be considered the everyday first baseman over Young.

“If Nick shows that he’s the player he was two years ago, which was a very good one, then at the end of camp we’re going to have to make a decision,” Acta said. “But it can’t be made right now because we have to see how healthy Nick is.”

Detwiler to pen?

General manager Jim Bowden may go a little old school on last year’s first-round draft choice, left-hander Ross Detwiler.

“I am not opposed at all to developing him out of the bullpen,” Bowden said, raising the possibility the 21-year-old could start the season as a reliever.

This was a common practice in years past. Many of the great Orioles pitchers of the 1960s and 1970s served an apprenticeship in the bullpen before moving to the rotation. Top New York Yankees prospect Joba Chamberlain came up at the end of last year in the bullpen and he’s expected to return there when the season starts.

Detwiler is still starting material, but Bowden cited former Kansas City Royals Bret Saberhagen and Mark Gubicza as examples of other pitchers who started in the bullpen.

“Sometimes, especially with a guy [Detwiler] with a delivery like that, it is best to bring him along in the bullpen,” Bowden said. “I am not opposed to a guy like that developing if he is that close and has that kind of stuff, if he is ready to do that. But he has to earn it.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts the year at [Class A] Potomac, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts the year in Washington. That will be determined on the field.”

Missing bodies

Eight pitchers and catchers, including setup man Luis Ayala, still hadn’t reported to Viera yesterday because of visa problems.

Acta said there is no way to know when those foreign players will be granted access to the United States but said they will not fall behind the rest of their teammates.

“Even if the guys are not here because of visa problems, they’re working out and following their regimen,” he said. “So it’s not like they’re sitting there and coming in here and have to start from A to Z.”

Those pitchers and catchers already in camp will participate in their first official team workout this morning.

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