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Nationals Notebook

Wilkerson Is Into the Swing

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 7, 2005; Page D11

VIERA, Fla., March 6 -- Just a few days ago, Brad Wilkerson said he needed more at-bats during spring training than the average player, maybe 50 or 60 times up before he feels comfortable.

So much for that theory. Wilkerson homered for the second straight day Sunday, a solo shot in the fourth inning of the Washington Nationals' 9-4 victory over the Houston Astros in front of 4,916 at Space Coast Stadium.

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Wilkerson, who hit 32 homers but drove in just 67 runs a year ago, said he already is comfortable hitting fifth, where Manager Frank Robinson would like to use him during the season. He hit leadoff much of last year.

"I think it's even better for the team" if he hits fifth, Wilkerson said. "It shows we have solidified some spots."

Wilkerson struck out in his first three plate appearances of the spring, but rebounded with the two homers.

"You don't want to peak too soon," Robinson said. "But you'd rather start swinging like that than struggle."

Day Makes 1st Appearance

Right-hander Zach Day, the presumed fifth starter, made his first appearance and allowed two solo homers in three innings. "A little rusty," said Day, who pitched in a game for the first time since Aug. 1, when he broke the middle finger on his right hand.

Day said he felt more comfortable pitching out of the stretch than the windup. Two other candidates for the rotation -- John Patterson and Jon Rauch -- have looked fairly sharp. "Starting's where I want to be," Day said.

Team Loses First

The Nationals' first loss came in the split-squad portion of Sunday's action, a 14-5 setback against the Mets in Port St. Lucie. Lefty Mike Hinckley, the franchise's top pitching prospect, gave up five runs. . . .

Catcher Gary Bennett said he strained his lower back Saturday, but said he hopes to only miss "a day or two." . . . Infielder Henry Mateo has tendinitis in his right shoulder. He will rest for five days and resume rehabilitation.

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