- The Washington Times - Monday, April 13, 2009

ATLANTA | After following a long and winding road that included only a brief cameo in the District for an exhibition game, the Washington Nationals finally come home Monday.

Washington's home opener against the Philadelphia Phillies at 3:05 p.m. kicks off a nine-game homestand at Nationals Park. It comes not a moment too soon for a team that is ready to unpack its bags and settle in for a change after going 0-6 to start the season.

“That's huge,” Adam Dunn said. “You get to go to a familiar place. You get to sleep in a familiar bed - for most people. I think that's kind of what we needed. It's the perfect time.”

Team president Stan Kasten said tickets still are available for Monday's game “but not many.” The center-field gate opens at 12:30 p.m., with the entire ballpark opening to the public at 1:30 p.m. The Nationals will take batting practice after the Phillies, giving fans a rare chance to watch the home team hit.

Kasten admitted season-ticket sales are down from last year's figure of about 22,000, but he wouldn't reveal specific numbers. He cited three factors contributing to the decrease in demand.

“We're aware that coming off 102 losses there's going to be a drop-off,” he said. “The second year in a new ballpark, there's going to be a drop-off. And then the big thing: what's happening in our economy, what our customers are living with, fighting through.”

The Nationals have sold out two of their previous four home openers: the first game at RFK Stadium in 2005 and last year's inaugural game at Nationals Park.

Another infielder hurt

Willie Harris became the latest second baseman to succumb to injury Sunday, leaving the Nationals to turn to their fourth-stringer, Alberto Gonzalez.

Harris winced after fouling off a pitch in the third inning and felt something “grab” on his left side, then came up lame after singling on the next pitch. He was diagnosed with a strained oblique. Although doctors told him the injury appears to be mild, Harris could be headed for the disabled list.

“It was uncomfortable, and it kind of caught me off-guard,” he said.

With projected starter Anderson Hernandez (strained hamstring) and backup Ronnie Belliard (back injury) already out of commission, Harris' ailment likely will force the Nationals to add another infielder to the roster Monday.

Hernandez, who played seven innings in a rehab game with Class AAA Syracuse, could be activated from the 15-day DL before expected. Other options in the minors include Alex Cintron and Pete Orr.

“We're very short there,” manager Manny Acta said.

Zimmerman's milestone

Ryan Zimmerman's eighth-inning single Sunday was the 500th hit of his career.

At 24 years and 196 days old, Zimmerman is the second-youngest player in franchise history to reach that milestone, behind only former Expos player Delino DeShields (24 years, 164 days).

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