- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2008

VERO BEACH, Fla. — Manager Manny Acta hopes another team will move its spring training operation to Vero Beach after the Dodgers leave this year — not because it would keep a short road trip on the Nationals’ schedule, but because Acta said it’s tough to imagine a spring without baseball there.

The Dodgers have called Vero Beach home for 60 years, and Acta has made trips there as a player, coach and manager for nearly 20 years. Los Angeles will leave “Dodgertown” for Arizona after this season, and while Acta understands the reasons behind the move, he will miss playing at Holman Stadium.

“It’s a unique place,” Acta said. “It’s a legendary field when it comes down to spring training and when it comes down to affiliation. When you say Vero Beach, everybody thinks the Dodgers. That’s the way it’s been for years.”

There’s no new suitor for Vero Beach yet, but the Orioles have looked at leaving Fort Lauderdale and taking over the Dodgers’ facility.

“It’s sad to see them go, but I’m pretty sure somebody else will move in here,” Acta said.

O’Connor sails

After walking the first two batters of the game, allowing them to steal three bases and throwing a pitch in the dirt that led to Juan Pierre scoring on a passed ball, it appeared Mike O’Connor was in for a long day.

Those mistakes were the only things the left-hander did wrong.

O’Connor pitched five innings of no-hit ball, striking out four hitters (two on called strikes) and allowing just one ball out of the infield.

He is the first Nationals pitcher to work five innings this spring, and though he’s a long shot to make the Opening Night roster, he has shown improvement from 2006, when he went 3-8 in 20 starts after injuries forced his call-up.

“Some of it is experience,” he said. “I know I can pitch here.”

The 27-year-old doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but he set up his fastball effectively yesterday with a sneaky curveball. He used the curve to freeze Russell Martin on his last pitch of the game.

If O’Connor doesn’t make the big league roster to start the season, he’s confident he would be one of the first call-ups if injuries happen.

“You don’t want to wish anything bad,” he said. “But if people hadn’t gotten hurt, a lot of guys would still be pitching in the minors.”

Perez on the way

Left-hander Odalis Perez flew to the Dominican Republic yesterday to get his work visa, meaning he is cleared to face major league hitters. He is tentatively scheduled to start Saturday against the Dodgers.

“Whoever’s pitching that day [on the schedule], we’ll throw them in the [minor league] accelerated camp [game],” Acta said. “It’s time to start stretching these guys for four or five innings.”

John Lannan would be scheduled to pitch Saturday if Perez doesn’t start. There’s plenty of time for things to change, but the Saturday starter is on a five-day rest schedule that lines up with starting on Opening Night.

No worries

Though third baseman Ryan Zimmerman might not play tonight against Florida after leaving Tuesday’s game with tightness in his right hip flexor, it doesn’t mean he couldn’t.

“Zim’s OK,” Acta said. “I could sit him all the way until March 29 [the day before Opening Night].”

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