For Nats Outfielder Logan, a Familiar Position

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Here is Manny Acta, manager of the Washington Nationals, on how much competition Nook Logan, who has 545 major league at-bats, will face for the starting center field job when spring training opens next month: "He's going to spring training as our center fielder. He's going to be his own competition there, and that's it."

And here is Logan, in so many words, on that prospect: I've heard it before.

"I think I know what I can do, and I think the front office here knows what I can do," he said yesterday. "But I know from experience that you can lose jobs in this game. I don't think that'll happen here, though. I'm not saying I'll be more relaxed, but . . ."

The indication, though, is that he will, and that he believes it will pay dividends. Logan is a 27-year-old who was told, he said, that he was the Detroit Tigers' starting center fielder not once, but twice, only to lose the job anyway. He is a speedy switch hitter who fell so far off the radar screen in Detroit as the Tigers were en route to the American League pennant last year that he was moved off the 40-man roster and became available to the Nationals in a trade.

He is also a guy who, it appears, was hardened by the whole experience. He vows this time he'll handle it with a combination of maturity and confidence that will allow him to excel, something the Nationals -- who have lacked a true center fielder since they arrived in Washington in 2005 -- desperately need.

"We need to play better defense, and we will play better defense," Acta said. "Nook is a big part of that. That's a premium position. You have to cover a lot of ground in center, especially when you play at RFK. That sets the tone up the middle. I think he'll be a tremendous boost to our defense."

Acta is basing his opinion not only on the few times he saw Logan last season, when Acta coached third base for the New York Mets, but on some raw statistics the Nationals are using. Fans will remember the diving grabs Logan made, highlight-reel stuff that put him on "Baseball Tonight." But baseball men think there is more to it than the spectacular. Before Logan was acquired, Nationals pitchers allowed an average of 9.6 hits per nine innings. After the trade they gave up 8.96 per outing.

"It's something that if you added up," Acta said, "it's a huge contribution."

Logan believes he has been ready to make huge contributions before. In Detroit, he began the 2005 season sharing center with Craig Monroe, and when right fielder Magglio OrdoƱez went down with an injury, he ended up as the starter. Through July, he was hitting .281, stealing 19 bases while being caught four times.

"I made the most of that opportunity," he said. "I just went out there and just played every day and didn't think about it, and put up good numbers. I felt good about what I was doing."

The Tigers, though, had other plans. Curtis Granderson was called up from the minors midway through August of that season, and Logan's playing time dwindled. Over the final two months, he hit .135. Admittedly, his attitude suffered.

"Before, I was coming to the ballpark, and I had a routine," Logan said. "I was doing everything when I was playing, working before games and after games, even when I was only playing three or four days a week. Then it went down to where I wasn't playing at all, and things changed. I hate to say 'they,' but word got around that I wasn't working anymore. I was going to the ballpark like, 'Why do the same thing I was doing when I was playing when I'm not going to play at all?' "

Still, new Tigers manager Jim Leyland told Logan before 2006 that he was the leading contender to play center. The problem: Logan struggled in spring training, and Granderson soared. The solution: Logan went to the minors. Granderson was a starter in the World Series.

"I was pressing, worrying about getting hits," Logan said.

Those experiences, he said, will color the way he approaches this spring training. "I needed a new start, and now I have one," he said. Though shortstop Cristian Guzman -- he of the .298 career on-base percentage -- will be given the first shot to hit second behind leadoff man Felipe Lopez, Acta said he will keep his eye on Logan, who struggles hitting left-handed but has shown the ability to bunt for a hit, and who hit .300 in his 27 games with Washington last season.

"I think he can develop into a top-of-the-order guy," Acta said.

Logan believes it, too.

"I know I can do the job," he said. "Now, I just have to show everybody here I can do it every single day."

Nationals Notes: The club yesterday avoided arbitration with Lopez, their former shortstop and new second baseman, by agreeing to a one-year, $3.9 million contract. Lopez, who hit .281 with a .362 on-base percentage after Washington acquired him in a July trade with Cincinnati, earned $2.7 million last season. The Nationals still have four arbitration-eligible players: closer Chad Cordero, right-hander John Patterson and outfielders Austin Kearns and Alex Escobar. . . .

The agent for right-hander Tomo Ohka said his client will likely decide on which team to sign with today or tomorrow. Jim Masteralexis declined to comment on Ohka's likely destination, sources said it was unlikely to be Washington. Ohka, who pitched for the Nationals in 2005, is most likely headed to Toronto. . . .

The club began its week-long "caravan" throughout the area yesterday with a morning appearance at Kimball Elementary School in the District, when the Nationals announced they had officially "adopted" the school. "It's inspiring for these kids," Principal Sheila West-Miller said. The team will give tickets to top students and have players and front-office members make appearances throughout the school year.

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