Friday, January 27, 2006

Spring training may serve as an audition to see who can fill in for right fielder Jose Guillen in the Washington Nationals outfield for the early part of the season.

Guillen, who is in town this week as part of the Nationals Winter Caravan, expressed concerns yesterday that his surgically repaired left shoulder might not be 100 percent by Opening Day. Guillen, who had rotator cuff surgery in November to correct what was believed to be a small tear in his non-throwing shoulder, said his injury was more serious than previously diagnosed.

“It was pretty much a reconstructed shoulder,” Guillen said yesterday after speaking to students at Powell Elementary School in upper Northwest. “The surgery has taken me a while to heal and get that shoulder strong. I’m not going to rush anything. I’m going to have to take everything step by step and when it’s ready, it’s ready. If I have to miss the first month, the first few weeks, I’m going to miss it. It’s better to lose a month than six months of a season.”

The Nationals open their second season April3 in New York against the Mets at Shea Stadium. Guillen said he is unable to do any baseball-related activities and that his rehab consists of lifting weights and running. Guillen also said he is going to report early [Feb. 6] to the Nationals spring training complex in Viera, Fla., to accelerate his recovery.

“The tendon was completely torn in half, so that’s how serious it was,” Guillen said. “Coming from an injury like that, it’s going to take some time for me to heal and get that shoulder 100 percent. I have to be smart because I was pretty scared talking the doctor [Dr. Jose Uribe] after the surgery. In what they said was going to be a half-hour surgery went almost three-and-a-half hours. When Dr. Uribe told me the tendon was broken in half, I was like, ‘This could be career-ending for me.’ When he told me that stuff, I was pretty shocked.”

With the Nationals in the National League’s wild-card race until the last week of the season, Guillen played almost every day in the second half of 2005 despite a bum shoulder that he initially injured sliding head-first into home June26 in Toronto.

Guillen was the Nationals top offensive threat. He lead the club in runs (81), hits (156), total bases (264), home runs (24), and RBI (76), but the 29-year-old slugger struggled at the plate in the second half. In 66 games after the All-Star break, Guillen batted just .246 with six home runs and 25 RBI, after hitting .310 with 18 home runs, 100 hits and 51 RBI in the first half.

Guillen’s uncertainty for Opening Day makes persuading Alfonso Soriano to play in the Nationals outfield even more important. Soriano, whom the Nationals acquired from the Texas Rangers in December for outfielders Brad Wilkerson and Terrmel Sledge and minor league pitcher Armando Galarraga, has rejected the idea of playing in the outfield.

Guillen has spoken with Soriano, a career second baseman, a couple of times about playing with Washington. Guillen and Soriano are both from the Dominican Republic, and according to Guillen, close friends. Soriano is receptive to most aspects of playing for the Nationals except the proposed position change.

“He told me that he’s not an outfielder. I don’t want to get into that stuff, that’s going to be up to [Nationals general manager] Jim Bowden and [manager] Frank Robinson and I’m pretty confident that they are going to fix that problem,” Guillen said.

Soriano, who hit .268 with 36 home runs and 104 RBI last season with the Rangers, may not be needed in the Nationals outfield if second baseman Jose Vidro is unable to begin the season after offseason knee surgery. Guillen said he also has been in contact with veteran Dominican slugger Sammy Sosa about possibly playing in Washington.

The Nationals have spoken with Sosa’s representatives on a couple of occasions and appear willing to sign Sosa, 37, to a non-guaranteed contract and invite him to spring training. However, Sosa feels he is still worth guaranteed money despite coming off a season when he made more than $17 million and hit just .221 with 14 home runs and 45 RBI and had two stints on the disabled list last season with the Baltimore Orioles.

“I’m working both [Soriano and Sosa],” Guillen said. “In baseball, anybody can have a bad year. I was 24 years old when I was in Tampa and they said I was done and I couldn’t play any more and this guy has no more ability. I went to Cincinnati and Jim Bowden gave me an opportunity to play. … Hopefully, he’ll give a chance to Sammy and he’ll prove everybody wrong and hopefully have something left in the tank.”

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