Nationals Notebook

A Late Break for Soriano

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 26, 2006

LAKELAND, Fla., March 25 -- A day after crushing his first homer as a Washington National, Alfonso Soriano took Saturday off, a move Manager Frank Robinson said he made in part to relieve the pressure Soriano has felt all week, when the matter of whether he would move from second base to the outfield was finally resolved.

"I just wanted to give him a chance to relax a little bit," Robinson said. "I'm sure he's still thinking about playing left field or being out there. He shouldn't. This is his job. You have to get away from it when you're away from the ballpark. This gives him an opportunity to relax and not be under the pressure of playing today and going out there."

Soriano hit his first home run of the season Friday night against Atlanta, a three-run shot. Robinson said Soriano will likely play six or seven games in a row to prepare for the season, which opens April 3 in New York against the Mets.

Zimmerman Struggling

Ryan Zimmerman's quick rise to the majors -- he was a junior at the University of Virginia at this time last year -- was due mostly to his glove. He has drawn raves for his fielding ability from scouts and executives alike, and General Manager Jim Bowden said he is Gold Glove-caliber already.

So Zimmerman's spring is a bit perplexing. Saturday in a 4-0 loss to the Detroit Tigers, he committed two errors, bringing his total to six in 19 Grapefruit League games.

"I'm concerned," Robinson said. "This is supposed to be his strong suit."

Zimmerman attributed the lapses to the grind of spring training. "I'm ready to get the ones that count," he said. "I shouldn't say that, because I'm lucky to be here. But it gets a little monotonous here. . . . It's the competition level and what you're playing for."

Friday, Bowden dismissed the Nationals' fielding woes -- they now have 43 errors in 26 games -- by arguing that most of the miscues haven't come from the starting lineup. That group now has 12.

Armas Hit Hard

Right-hander Tony Armas Jr. allowed four runs in just 3 1/3 innings against the Tigers, an experience that he needed 70 pitches to survive. Facing what Manager Jim Leyland said would likely be Detroit's Opening Day lineup, Armas allowed five hits, including a homer to Chris Shelton, walked three and struck out three.

"The results weren't what I wanted," Armas said. Still, there was remarkably little concern among the coaching staff.

"I saw some good things," pitching coach Randy St. Claire said. "He threw too many pitches." Nationals officials are clearly more concerned with Armas's throwing motion following offseason shoulder surgery. His shoulder, all parties report, moves more freely and easily now, restoring his old velocity and movement.

Armas will make one more start.

By the Numbers 4 Hits for the Nationals on Saturday in 30 at-bats, dropping the team's spring average to .249 Up Next vs. Houston, in Viera, Fla., 1 (WDCA-20)

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