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Bowden: Left Field Race Is Still Open

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 19, 2007

VIERA, Fla., March 18 -- Less than two weeks after Washington Nationals Manager Manny Acta declared Ryan Church would be the starting left fielder even if he went "0 for the rest of . . . spring training," General Manager Jim Bowden declared the left field situation an open competition because of the inspired play of newcomer Chris Snelling.

"We know he's on the team," Bowden said of Snelling, heretofore considered a fourth-outfielder candidate. "The only question is who's going to start in left field. The way he's been swinging the bat, he's in a good competition right now to be the everyday left fielder."

Snelling, a 25-year-old acquired in January from Seattle in the Jose Vidro trade, is hitting .286 and leads the team with three homers and 10 RBI. Church, meantime, is hitting .189 with no homers and six RBI.

Asked in light of Bowden's comments whether Church is still the starting left fielder, Acta said, "Church is the guy, I think." Pressed further about Snelling, Acta said, "He has to make the team first, and we'll go from there." Could he rule out Snelling starting in left? "You can't rule anything out in life."

Acta said without hesitation that Nook Logan remains the starting center fielder, even though Church appeared there (with Snelling in left) on Saturday.

Rotation Rounding Out

Acta confirmed that rookie lefty Matt Chico would be the team's No. 4 starter -- behind right-handers John Patterson, Shawn Hill and Jason Simontacchi -- "if things continue to develop the way they are."

That leaves five pitchers -- right-handers Jason Bergmann, Levale Speigner, Joel Hanrahan, Tim Redding and Jerome Williams -- competing for the remaining rotation job, although Bergmann and/or Speigner also could wind up in the bullpen as long or middle relievers. On Sunday, Hanrahan became the latest contender to make a strong case, throwing three scoreless innings against the Florida Marlins.

Simontacchi, meantime, will skip his next start because of tightness in his right groin, which Acta characterized as "nothing serious."

Pitcher Of the Day John Patterson, facing the same Marlins team he will face on Opening Day, was scheduled for four innings but lasted only three because he reached his pitch limit of 65. He allowed three hits, a walk and three earned runs, striking out four, and struggled to maintain his command from the stretch position. Up Next vs. Los Angeles Dodgers in Viera, Fla., 1 p.m.

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