Sunday, April 15, 2007

NEW YORK — Manny Acta decided Thursday to make Chris Snelling his starting left fielder, a decision that has proven to pay off and could lead to Kory Casto’s demotion to Class AAA Columbus.

After backing up Casto for most of the first two weeks of the season, Snelling was inserted into the lineup Thursday and has remained there since. And when he hit two-run homer and added an RBI groundout in yesterday’s 6-2 win over the New York Mets, the 25-year-old outfielder further cemented his place with the Nationals for the immediate future.

Snelling is hitting only .263, but he’s reaching base at an impressive .458 clip, coming through in a timely manner and is enjoying his more-regular work.

“Obviously when you’re doing something more, you’re going to get more comfortable doing it,” he said.

Batting eighth again yesterday, Snelling drilled a two-run homer to right off New York’s Orlando Hernandez to cap a three-run sixth inning. He ran so fast around the bases, he nearly passed Brian Schneider without realizing it.

“He’s very aggressive at the plate,” Acta said. “I don’t think anything rattles him. He’s one of those gritty, run-through-a-wall type of guys. Usually those guys [don’t worry] about [being] clutch or not clutch. They’re just very aggressive and don’t get intimidated.”

Based on his performance and Casto’s struggles (the rookie is mired in a 3-for-19 slump and is now batting .179), Snelling will continue to get most of the starts in left field.

“I thought we gave Casto a fair shot, and now it’s time to see Snelling, too,” Acta said Friday night.

Which means Casto, the organization’s two-time minor league player of the year, likely is headed back to Columbus as soon as Nook Logan comes off the disabled list.

“Kory made the jump from Double-A,” Acta said. “Kory hasn’t even played Triple-A baseball and he’s fully aware that it wasn’t going to be easy. Yeah, he’s going to learn from it. He’s learned in a week or so that it’s a different ballgame up here.”

Logan, Guzman not ready

Logan, out since Opening Day with a sprained left foot, is eligible to come off the DL Tuesday, but Acta said his center fielder won’t be ready that soon.

Both Logan and shortstop Cristian Guzman (strained left hamstring) are due to resume baseball activities tomorrow. After that, both must get some at-bats in minor league rehab stints to get their timing back.

Logan is probably looking at a return late in the week, while Guzman probably won’t be back until at least next week.

Extra bases

Ryan Church’s solo homer in the sixth helped give the Nationals a comfortable lead yesterday, but his second-inning double extended his career-high hitting streak to 11 games. Ronnie Belliard’s nine-game hit streak, though, came to an end after an 0-for-3 day. …

Felipe Lopez stole the Nationals’ first base of the season yesterday. Lopez swiped second in the top of the third inning, then advanced to third when catcher Paul Lo Duca’s throw sailed into the outfield.

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