- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2008

VIERA, Fla. — Most of the pitchers and catchers have been working out at the Washington Nationals training complex since Saturday, but today — the first full squad workout — really marks the start of spring training, according to manager Manny Acta.

“I don’t want to put the pitchers and catchers down, but it is kind of quiet and boring,” Acta said. “Those guys are quiet, especially because our pitching staff is so young. A lot of those guys are not boisterous. They are concentrating more on locking a spot. Position players are louder, and it’s more fun.

“Spring training kicks off tomorrow,” he said yesterday.

Nearly everyone was at the complex yesterday, getting physicals and working out, including shortstop Cristian Guzman, who is coming off surgery to repair his left thumb, and reliever Luis Ayala, who was hit in the left forearm by a shotgun pellet during a hunting trip last month and suffered a bruised nerve in his upper forearm. Ayala returned late last year after missing the 2006 season with right elbow surgery.

Ayala said the hunting accident “was no big deal. I had some little fragments in my left arm, and it was a little numb, but I think I will be ready for Opening Day.”

He also said he is fully recovered from the 2006 elbow surgery. Ayala finished with a 3.19 ERA in 44 games last season.

“I think I showed last year that I am ready,” he said.

Several players are not yet here because of visa problems, the most significant being catcher Jesus Flores and reliever Jesus Colome. But Flores is expected to arrive tomorrow, club officials said.

Acta, in his second year as Nationals manager, said he will address the team before the first full workout today, and his message will be different than last year.

“They are going to hear more nice things from me because last year I just flat-out got in that room and told them all the negatives they had the year before and what needed to be changed and improved in order for us to get better, mainly our defense, baserunning, amount of outs we gave up on the bases and the pitching and all that,” he said. “Since they made improvements, they deserve to hear that, too, but also that we are not satisfied. We are not there. It is still far different from where I want to be as an offensive team and a defensive team and everything else in order for us to move up.”

Ticket sales

Team president Stan Kasten called the sale of season tickets at the new ballpark strong.

“They are well over 17,000 for full-season equivalents. By Opening Day, we’ll be around 18,000,” Kasten said.

He said that figure puts them in the top 10 to 15 teams in baseball, which he believes is good.

“Considering where our team is in its development, that’s a very strong number, I think,” Kasten said.

He also said the number of 20-game ticket packages pushes the total number of packages sold to more than 25,000. Those partial ticket holders, though, are limited to two Opening Day tickets.

“We couldn’t give everyone the same number [as past years] because we didn’t have enough seats,” Kasten said. “The park is smaller.”

Kasten said the club has started shipping tickets, and it will take another week to be done. As far as parking, Kasten said no daily cash parking lots have been identified yet. The Nationals hope to have them by Opening Day but are not sure whether that will happen.

Single-game tickets, including Opening Day, go on sale March 4. Kasten said several thousand seats have been held back for fans who are not season-ticket holders.

No bubble for Dukes

Acta said he thought troubled outfielder Elijah Dukes did a good job at his press conference Wednesday.

“It is not a secret,” he said. “All of you know that we orchestrated everything. We just wanted to make sure that all the work we put in during the offseason paid off, and we wanted to talk to the kid before he talked to you guys to let him know that we were happy that he followed through with everything. But once we put him in front of you guys, we couldn’t answer the questions. I think he did a good job, and he sounded sincere to me, but again, we are going to have to see.

“The orchestrating is over. It was just the entrance. That’s it. We’re not going to be able to put Elijah in a bubble. He is out there like everybody else, and we will offer our support as well as we can, but that’s about it.”

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