- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 13, 2009

MIAMI | When Mike Rizzo inherited the Washington Nationals’ general manager’s position in March, he inherited a mess of a situation in the Dominican Republic. Club executives had been fired. Players had been released. The franchise’s entire Dominican operation had been relocated to a temporary facility.

Six months later, the situation is finally becoming stable again.

The Nationals are finalizing plans to build a new baseball facility in the country and to hire a new staff that would oversee all Latin American operations. Rizzo, team president Stan Kasten and principal owner Mark Lerner flew to the Dominican on Monday to scout three potential sites for the academy: two in Boca Chica and one in San Pedro de Macoris.

Rizzo said he expects the facility to be ready next spring.

“We’re well on our way of turning this thing around,” he said. “We’re going to have one of the jewels of the Caribbean and really take it and run with being a real big player in Latin America.”

Until March, the Nationals had run their Dominican operations out of a facility owned by Jose Rijo, Bowden’s former special assistant. But after allegations of bonus skimming by Rijo and the revelation that a highly touted prospect had falsified his name and age, the club moved out of the complex and into one owned by Rawlings.

“They were gracious enough to allow us to use it in our time of need,” Rizzo said. “But it was always considered a temporary fix for us.”

Rizzo said he hopes to hire a director of international operations soon, with that person hiring scouting staff throughout Latin America.

Versatile Desmond

Ian Desmond made his second career start Saturday night, taking his familiar shortstop position against the Florida Marlins. But don’t be surprised if the 23-year-old plays at other positions before the end of this season.

Seeking a way to get Desmond at-bats, interim manager Jim Riggleman is considering using the young prospect at second base and possibly in the outfield. Desmond has been a shortstop throughout his professional career, but he’s welcoming the possibility of trying out other positions.

“I love it. It’s awesome,” he said. “Before I started playing pro ball, I pretty much played everywhere. I never had one set position. I always kind of in my head wanted to be a utility player. Obviously, you don’t want that now. But I just wanted to play everything. I’d go out to center field one day. The next day I’d play second base. I did that pretty much all growing up.”

The Nationals still view Desmond - who homered and drove in four runs in his major league debut Thursday - as a shortstop in the long run. But with veteran Cristian Guzman entrenched there now, Riggleman needs to get creative.

“We want to see him play,” Riggleman said. “We’re not expecting nights like he had [Thursday]. But we do want to see him play, and I’m just not going to shut any one guy down.”

Dukes scratched

Elijah Dukes was a late scratch from Saturday’s lineup because of a stiff back. The young right fielder had been swinging a hot bat, with a .404 average and 14 walks in his past 16 games.

Rookie Justin Maxwell started in Dukes’ place and batted sixth.

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