washingtonpost.com  > Print Edition > Sports > Articles Inside Sports
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.

_____ Opening Day _____
The Nationals and Manager Frank Robinson, pictured, lose to the Phillies, 8-4, on Monday.
Thomas Boswell: The first bit of reality sinks in and grounds the Nationals.
Mike Wise: Like old times, Washington loses a baseball game.
Terrmel Sledge's home run ball is headed for Cooperstown.
Montreal barely notices the Expos and baseball are gone.
Mayor Anthony Williams and some fans travel to Philadelphia.
Nationals boosters around town stopped to catch the first game.
More milestones for the Nats.
Nationals' 76 Game TV Schedule.

_____ On Our Site _____
Box score
Video of fans following the team to the first game vs. the Phillies.
More Opening Day photos from the game in Philadelphia.
Photos from the Nationals' first exhibition contest at RFK Stadium.

_____ Baseball Preview _____
It will be tough for the Orioles- Nationals matchup to join the ranks of great baseball rivalries.
A closer look at the Nationals' rivals in the NL East.
Thomas Boswell: The old rivalry between Washington and Baltimore should not take long to heat up.
Baseball Preview Section

_____ Nationals Basics _____
Player Capsules

_____E-mail Newsletter_____

Looking for Washington Nationals coverage you can't find anywhere else? Sign up for our free e-mail newsletter.
See a sample newsletter.

_____Astros Basics_____
Astros page

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.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company