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Nationals Notebook

Spot in the Outfield Is a Hot Ticket

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 20, 2005; Page E05

VIERA, Fla., Feb. 19 -- With the Washington Nationals' position players due to report to spring training Sunday, take physicals Monday and work out Tuesday, the competition for roster spots is about to begin in earnest.

Nowhere will that competition be more intense than in the outfield, where the only sure spot is right field, which will be manned by Jose Guillen. Brad Wilkerson will certainly be in the lineup, and his most likely home is left field, though he could end up at first base or, occasionally, in center field.

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"Center field," Manager Frank Robinson said, "is a question mark."

Endy Chavez was the starting center fielder last season, and he will be given every opportunity to win the job. But one reason the competition for such spots -- including reserve outfielder positions -- should be so intense is the presence of newcomers such as Alex Escobar, J.J. Davis and veteran Jeffrey Hammonds.

Escobar might be the most intriguing. The former minor league phenom with the New York Mets came over in a trade last week with the Chicago White Sox. Nationals officials believe if he is over a spate of injuries -- including a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a stress fracture -- he could put pressure on the holdovers, including the promising Terrmel Sledge.

"It's very frustrating to have those injuries when you know you can do it," Escobar said. "But I know what I can do. I'm strong enough mentally to know that I can win a job."

Invitation to Steal

New shortstop Cristian Guzman, the former Minnesota Twin who signed a four-year, $16.8 million contract with Washington, arrived Saturday, a day early. He said he wanted to meet his new teammates. He took some grounders and some batting practice, and expressed excitement at being encouraged to steal bases, which Robinson has said will be the case. "They told me I have the green light every day," Guzman said. His career high is 28 steals in 2000. . . .

Assistant general manager Tony Siegle said he expects all of the Nationals' position players to report on time Sunday.

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