- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 4, 2009

With the Washington Nationals in the middle of another losing stretch, manager Manny Acta called his players together for a meeting Friday afternoon designed to coax the team out of the funk.

The meeting lasted five minutes. No players or coaches spoke, Acta said, and the message was the one Acta usually employs in team meetings: reminding players they’re better than what they’ve shown while losing five of the previous six games.

“We just wanted to make sure the guys know that after that 5-4 [stretch against Toronto, the New York Yankees and Boston] that we did play good enough to win in Baltimore and Florida if we would’ve done a couple of things differently,” Acta said. “We just wanted to make sure they know that. They are playing better, and we’ve just got to keep it up.”

New-look lineup

With new center fielder Nyjer Morgan in the lineup for the first time, the Nationals shifted their look, bumping Cristian Guzman to the sixth spot in an effort to get the free-swinging shortstop in a spot where his .318 average can drive in some runs.

The Nationals’ top six hitters Friday against the Atlanta Braves were Morgan, Nick Johnson, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham and Guzman.

“We want [Guzman] hitting with those guys on base,” Acta said. “Sometimes we feel that his at-bat comes up after the eighth hitter and the pitcher. Right now, the way our offense is, we want to see him hitting with guys on base.”

Morgan’s arrival also relegates Willie Harris, who had started 13 of the Nationals’ past 18 games in center field, back to his normal utility role. Harris started at second base Friday night but isn’t slated to see much time in center field after a six-game stretch where he hit .381 with two homers and five walks.

“He’s a utility player,” Acta said. “That’s what he was signed for here, and he’s going to continue to do that. We’re going to find ways to use him. That’s what he is.”

Nats sign two picks

The Nationals announced that they have signed two more picks from their 2009 draft class: Kansas State right-hander A.J. Morris, a fourth-round choice, and California-Riverside left-hander Paul Applebee, a 10th-round selection.

Morris, thought by club officials to be one of the steals of the Nationals’ draft, went 14-1 with a 2.09 ERA last season, joining top pick Stephen Strasburg as a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award, given to the top amateur player in the country.

Washington has signed seven of the 11 players it took in the first 10 rounds of last month’s draft. Of the Nationals’ top five picks, only Strasburg remains unsigned.

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