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Nats, O's Show Their Young Side

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 6, 2006

VIERA, Fla., March 5 -- In the first of five Battles of the Beltways this spring, the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles each showcased their top young player, as Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and Orioles left fielder Nick Markakis both homered in Washington's 10-6 victory in front of 4,363 at Space Coast Stadium.

Zimmerman, batting cleanup for the first time this spring, hit his second towering homer in as many days, this time victimizing veteran Orioles right-hander Ricky Bottalico in the sixth inning. He also made another excellent defensive play on a slow roller in the fifth inning.

"I'm getting into a comfort zone," Zimmerman said. Spring training "doesn't count, but it certainly counts in terms of your mentality, for getting comfortable at the plate."

Meantime, Markakis homered off Nationals starter Jon Rauch in the second inning. He also walked and singled, and has reached base in eight of his nine plate appearances this spring.

While Markakis is competing for a starting job this spring, Zimmerman essentially was handed the Nationals' third base job in November when the team traded veteran Vinny Castilla. And while the Nationals are trying to be conservative with their expectations for their No. 1 draft pick of a year ago, Zimmerman's performance this spring is making it hard to do that.

"I don't want to put a lot of pressure on this kid," Manager Frank Robinson said, when asked if Zimmerman could develop into a 30- or 40-homer hitter. "But there's no reason why down the road somewhere he couldn't hit that number. Will he do it consistently? I don't know. . . . Who's to say it may not happen some this year, where he shows that type of power?"

Zimmerman said he gained roughly five pounds in the offseason, putting him up to about 225. But Robinson said he hopes Zimmerman's weight gain stops there.

"I don't want him getting too heavy too soon," Robinson said. "He's still filling out. I don't want no 250-pound third baseman. We'll watch him a little bit."

Rauch, Watkins Impress

Rauch also gave up a homer to Orioles center fielder David Newhan, but otherwise pitched well over three innings in his first appearance of the spring. Rauch is competing for one of three open jobs in the Nationals' rotation, but could also end up in the bullpen as the long reliever.

More impressive was non-roster right-hander Steve Watkins, who retired eight of the nine batters he faced, allowing only a walk while striking out five. Watkins, 27, went 9-2 with a 4.16 ERA, splitting time between the rotation and bullpen, for the Cleveland Indians' Class AAA team at Buffalo last season before leaving as a free agent.

Jensen Is Jettisoned

The Orioles released right-hander Ryan Jensen on Sunday. He had been signed to a minor league contract last month.

Face in the Crowd For the second day in a row, Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden was joined at Sunday's game by Mark Lerner, the head of one of the ownership groups seeking to buy the team. Up Next Today vs. Houston in Kissimmee, 1 Today vs. Dodgers in Vero Beach, 1:10

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