Nationals' Guillen Looks Forward to A Healthy Season

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 6, 2006

There is no lease for a new stadium, and Major League Baseball and the District could be headed to arbitration to finally end the dispute over who should be responsible for what costs for a ballpark to house the Washington Nationals. But quietly, the Nationals' players themselves have begun preparing for spring training, which is set to begin Feb. 18, when pitchers and catchers report to Viera, Fla. And perhaps their most crucial offensive player, right fielder Jose Guillen, is pledging to be healthy for the first time in months.

"I feel great," Guillen said in a telephone interview. "I'm doing perfect, better than anybody expected me to be. I'm so happy about it."

Guillen is coming off surgery to repair a slightly torn labrum in his left shoulder, and his recovery will have a tremendous impact on the Nationals' offense. After a failed effort to rehabilitate the injury, he underwent surgery on Nov. 21, and club officials figured it would be three months before he could swing a bat. Six-and-a-half weeks after the procedure, Guillen said he feels far better than he expected he would.

"I'm at 50-50 right now," he said. "I've got movement in my arm. I can move it around, and I'm already lifting weights -- little weights, not too heavy, but I'm lifting them. The doctor is really surprised about the progress. He cannot believe I'm using weights already."

Guillen is doing most of his rehabilitation near his offseason home in Miami, but he is in constant contact with Tim Kremchek, a special consultant for the Nationals. Bruce Thomas, the team's primary physician, said yesterday that Kremchek is pleased with Guillen's progress.

Guillen battled the shoulder the entire second half of last season -- often referring to it as "dead" -- and it clearly hindered his production. He had an all-star caliber first half in which he hit .310 with 18 home runs and 51 RBI. But his production dropped precipitously after the injury, which he suffered while sliding into home plate in June. After the all-star break, he hit just .246 with six homers and 25 RBI, and his fall-off was instrumental in the Nationals' struggle to score runs as they fell from first place to last in the National League East.

"I know what I was like in the second half," Guillen said. "I know I didn't hit like my teammates and the fans wanted me to hit. But I am so motivated to change that."

Guillen likely won't be able to swing a bat when position players report for spring training on Feb. 23, but he will be able to participate in throwing, defensive and conditioning drills.

The Nationals' other prominent injured player, second baseman Jose Vidro, is also undergoing rehabilitation to recover from an injury, in Vidro's case his chronically shaky right knee, which was surgically repaired in September 2004. Thomas said Vidro, who only played in 87 games last season due to knee and ankle problems, likely won't be ready to participate in full drills when spring training begins, but should be ready for the regular season opener, April 3 in New York against the Mets.

"Both of them are full-go on their rehab," Thomas said. "These guys are going to be in pretty good shape going into the spring, and definitely coming out of the spring."

Meantime, General Manager Jim Bowden and Manager Frank Robinson continue to discuss candidates for Robinson's coaching staff, which needs four new members. There is a chance the staff members won't be named until the weeks leading up to spring training.

Bowden said yesterday that the team, for now, is not pursuing another backup catcher after losing out on top targets such as Todd Pratt and John Flaherty, who signed with Atlanta and Boston, respectively. Instead, they signed a collection of hopefuls to minor league deals -- Mike DeFelice, Alberto Castillo, Wiki Gonzalez and Brandon Harper. Free agent Robert Fick, signed primarily as a pinch hitter and backup first baseman, caught 28 games for San Diego last year.

"We think we have a lot of candidates in-house," Bowden said. "If we get to spring training and a person doesn't separate himself, then we'll pursue a trade."

Also yesterday, a club source confirmed that infielder Jamey Carroll avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $700,000 contract which is not guaranteed. Carroll, a favorite of Robinson, played in 113 games last season, hitting .251 while playing primarily second base and shortstop. He faces a battle for playing time with newcomers Damian Jackson and Marlon Anderson, but it is possible all three would make the final 25-man roster.

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