VIERA, Fla., March 9 -- A week into their Grapefruit League schedule, the Washington Nationals are beginning to see results in one of their top spring projects: turning center fielder Endy Chavez into a legitimate leadoff hitter.
A 2-for-4 day Tuesday lifted Chavez's batting average to .250. Although he has yet to draw a walk in 12 plate appearances -- giving him an on-base percentage that is also .250 -- Manager Frank Robinson said he sees an improved plate approach in Chavez.
"I certainly like what I see so far," Robinson said Wednesday.
"He's trying to bunt. He bunted safely [in Saturday's game] in Fort Lauderdale for a base hit. He tried to bunt the other day," Robinson said. "He's working the count a little bit. He's not swinging from his heels as much. He's stealing a base or two. He is starting to do some of the things we've asked him to do."
Chavez was to have batted leadoff again for the Nationals on Wednesday against the Detroit Tigers, but the game was rained out. It will not be made up.
Robinson said he has set a goal of a .380 on-base percentage for Chavez this season, even though it may not be realistic, given Chavez's career mark of .303.
"I don't want it to be realistic," Robinson said. "I don't want it to be easy for him. But I want to give him something to think about. He knows he really has to work at it to be able to achieve that."
The Nationals want Chavez to win the leadoff spot because they want to be able to move Brad Wilkerson, a better run-producer who nonetheless batted leadoff most of last season, down in the order.
Sledge Hurts Shoulder
Outfielder Terrmel Sledge sprained his right (non-throwing) shoulder while diving for a ball Tuesday against St. Louis. Sledge likely will miss three to five days. Right-hander Francis Beltran, who underwent an MRI exam earlier in camp, has a partial tear in his ulnar collateral ligament, and will be further evaluated by James Andrews on Monday in Birmingham. . . .
Because of Wednesday's rainout, scheduled starter Tomo Ohka will start Thursday in a split-squad game against Cleveland in Winter Haven, Fla. In the other game, projected Opening Day starter Livan Hernandez will start against the Florida Marlins in Viera, followed by number five starter candidate John Patterson. . . .
Right fielder Jose Guillen was absent from camp Wednesday and was not in the team's scheduled starting lineup. Robinson said he gave Guillen a full day off, which Robinson said he likes to do occasionally in the spring with his star players.
Still on Schedule
A rainout of Wednesday's game against the Minnesota Twins won't alter the Baltimore Orioles' pitching rotation. Daniel Cabrera, who was scheduled to start Wednesday, will pitch Thursday against the New York Mets. Rodrigo Lopez, scheduled to pitch Thursday, will instead start on Friday against the Florida Marlins.
The rainout mostly will affect the relievers.
"Anytime you have a rainout in spring training, with all the guys you have, you have to make some adjustments," Baltimore Manager Lee Mazzilli said.
Instead of giving the team a day off because of the rainout, Mazzilli had position players take batting practice indoors.
Pitcher Matt Riley threw for the first time on Wednesday since being struck in the left biceps by a vicious line drive from Florida Marlins shortstop Alex Gonzalez on Monday. Riley originally was scheduled to miss a week. . . . Brian Roberts, who hasn't played since Saturday, said he felt some improvement in his strained right shoulder. The second baseman isn't sure when he'll return to the lineup.
"The last two days it has been better," Roberts said. "The range of motion has been better."
-- Jorge Arangure