- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 3, 2009

Manny Acta talked about “changing the culture” around the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse two weeks ago when he benched and fined outfielder Elijah Dukes for reporting late to batting practice.

The Nationals manager is sticking to his word. On Saturday, he benched and fined second baseman Ronnie Belliard for the same infraction.

Belliard was slated to be in Washington’s starting lineup for only the sixth time this season, but he overslept and arrived at Nationals Park after his teammates had already started stretching at 10:30 a.m.

“He just overslept today, [but] a rule’s a rule,” Acta said. “He was apologetic about it. He went through what everybody has gone through when they are late here. But no hard feelings because he has been real good and a solid citizen on and off the field for us for three years.”

This is the third time a Nationals player has reported late to the ballpark this year. Outfielder Lastings Milledge walked in late for a team meeting in Miami the day before the season opener, earning a fine but no benching. Dukes was on the field five minutes late for batting practice before the April 18 game against the Marlins after making an appearance at a local Little League event. He was benched and fined $500.

Approached after Saturday’s game - a 6-1 victory against the St. Louis Cardinals - Belliard walked away and said: “Tomorrow. I’ll get you tomorrow. I don’t want to be late.”

Flores ready for the grind

Jesus Flores was out of the lineup Saturday, given a chance to sit out a day game following a night game. But the young catcher doesn’t figure to get many of these breathers over the course of the season as the Nationals find out whether he can handle the long grind behind the plate.

Acta said he would like to see Flores start anywhere from 130 to 140 games this year, far more than he has done at any point in his career.

“Hopefully he can stay healthy to do it,” the manager said.

Flores has surpassed 100 games only once in his five years as a professional ballplayer; he caught 120 at Class A St. Lucie in 2006 while in the New York Mets’ system. The 24-year-old, though, said he has been preparing for this kind of workload and relishes the opportunity.

“That’s why we have spring training,” he said. “It is the moment to get ready, to get your body in shape, to prepare yourself to be able to catch more than 120 games during the season. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but you’ve got to be tough.”

Beimel’s strange night

Joe Beimel’s rehab appearance Friday night at Class A Potomac didn’t look good on paper: He allowed five runs and seven hits in one inning against Frederick. The injured left-hander was baffled by the results but insists he felt strong and threw the ball well.

“The line doesn’t look too good, but I felt pretty good,” he said. “I just had my feelings hurt a little bit, I guess.”

Beimel, out since April 20 with an injured left hip, will make another one-inning start for Potomac on Sunday. He is slated to come off the disabled list Wednesday.

• Mark Zuckerman can be reached at mzuckerman@washingtontimes.com.

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