Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Washington Nationals took batting practice for the first time in their new ballpark yesterday, and they’ll play their first exhibition game in it tonight. But depending on whom you ask, it will be tough to get a feel for Nationals Park before a few weeks go by.

Tonight’s game against the Baltimore Orioles certainly won’t provide a complete analysis. So while some players will immediately start taking mental notes of the ballpark’s nuances, others prefer to forget it altogether.

“You don’t pitch to your park. You pitch to the hitter,” said Jason Bergmann, who will start tonight’s game. “You can’t be like, ‘It’s a short porch out there, you can’t throw anything inside.’ It takes something away from you. They know it, you know it, and it’ll hurt you.”

Whatever the approach, most agree today’s exhibition isn’t an exact dress rehearsal for the season. A number of factors, from the ghoulish March wind blowing in from left field during last night’s workout to the longer-than-normal infield grass, probably will change as the season goes on. And since more than two-thirds of the ballparks in the major leagues have been built in the last 20 years, there’s only so much that the Nationals can learn about their new home.

So despite all the fanfare surrounding opening weekend, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said it’s best to approach the team’s Nationals Park debut with restraint.

“Everything’s exciting, but once the game starts, it’s just another game,” Zimmerman said. “That’s always how I’ve felt in every game I’ve played. It’s exciting in the beginning of the game, but once you get down to situations on the field, you don’t really think about it.”

What today’s exhibition will do, however, is give the Nationals the best feel for their 2008 lineup they’ve had all spring. Manager Manny Acta said Washington will have its Opening Day lineup mostly intact, save for the fact that it will use a designated hitter since it is playing an American League team.

He will inform the players who have been in position battles all spring (mostly for first base and the middle infield spots) of their status today.

Redding goes six

Starter Tim Redding, who left in the fourth inning of last Sunday’s game with back spasms, stayed at the team’s spring training facility in Viera, Fla., yesterday to throw six innings in a minor league game.

Acta said Redding pitched without problems, and he will fly to Washington for the team’s opening weekend festivities.

Redding is still on track to make his first start of the season Wednesday at Philadelphia.

Shawn Hill, who is on the disabled list with tightness in his right forearm, will throw three innings today in Viera and join the team for Opening Day.

Presidential excitement

Both Acta and Zimmerman, who will be involved in President Bush’s first pitch tomorrow night, called it an honor to be part of the ceremony.

“We’re all very blessed to live in this country, and he does a lot of great stuff for us,” Zimmerman said. “For him to spend some time to come out here and do that says what kind of guy he really is.”

Zimmerman, Acta and managing principal owner Ted Lerner will escort the president to the mound, and Acta will catch the pitch.

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