- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 1, 2008

PHOENIX - Willie Harris doesn’t often show up at the ballpark expecting to find his name in the Washington Nationals‘ starting lineup. It’s something the 29-year-old utilityman has come to accept.

“We knew what our role was going to be coming into spring training,” Harris said. “But at the same time, throughout the course of a season, a lot of things can happen. And if someone gets hot, Manny [Acta’s] the type of manager, I’m pretty sure he’s going to put that bat in the lineup.”

Indeed, Acta isn’t afraid to reward a bench player when he performs. So after producing the deciding runs in Friday night’s 7-4 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks, Harris was back in the starting lineup last night in the Nationals’ 4-0 loss to Brandon Webb and Arizona.

Harris earned the start after hitting a three-run homer in the seventh inning, snapping a 3-3 tie at Chase Field.

The homer off right-hander Micah Owings was only the ninth of Harris’ career, which has included 1,307 at-bats, but it was his second this season (one more than starting outfielders Wily Mo Pena and Elijah Dukes have combined).

It helps that the versatile Harris can play almost anywhere on the field. He has played five different positions this season - left field, center field, second base, third base and shortstop - and he has looked perfectly adept at each spot, rarely misplaying a ball.

Friday night, he started at second base and then moved to third late as part of a defensive switch. Last night, he started in left field.

“He’s just very valuable, especially because he gets it done defensively, too,” Acta said. “He’s not a liability out there. A lot of guys tend to play a lot of positions, but he has played them well for us.”

And then there’s this: Entering last night, Harris had started 10 games this season. The Nationals’ record in those games was 7-3. When he doesn’t start, they are 17-29.

Banged-up but not broken

Catcher Jesus Flores was out of the lineup last night after taking two foul balls off his mask Friday and experiencing headaches and nausea.

Flores, who was still feeling the effects after the game Friday, said yesterday he felt “OK, better than last night.”

The Nationals didn’t want to take any chances, so Wil Nieves started.

“He’s doing fine,” Acta said of Flores. “We’re just going to keep him out of the lineup today to give him an extra day.”

Extra bases

Ryan Zimmerman (sore left shoulder) was out of the Nationals’ lineup for the sixth straight game, but he did take batting practice and hopes to play in today’s series finale. …

Cristian Guzman entered last night’s game with 25 extra-base hits (18 doubles, two triples, five homers). That leads all major league shortstops. The Diamondbacks’ Stephen Drew, the Mets’ Jose Reyes and the Astros’ Miguel Tejada all have 24.



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