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Milledge Feels At Home in His New Clubhouse

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 22, 2008

VIERA, Fla., Feb. 21 -- Outfielder Lastings Milledge, acquired in a trade this winter from the New York Mets, had only been in the Washington Nationals' clubhouse for a couple of hours Thursday morning, but it was long enough for him to conclude, "I feel more relaxed in this clubhouse."

Milledge, who turns 23 in April, enters camp as the Nationals' starting center fielder, a far more stable situation, he said, than what he encountered in New York, where he was shuttled between the majors and the minors, and was criticized by veterans for what they saw as showy behavior unbecoming a rookie.

"Just knowing someone wants you here is a key," Milledge said. "It takes a lot pressure off, because you already know your role. . . . Especially with the Mets, and the veterans they have there, there just wasn't a spot for me."

His troubles in New York began "because I didn't fit into that rookie mold that everybody's supposed to fit in. I kind of did things a little different. . . . [But] if had to do all over again I would do it the same way. I have no regrets about what I did, the way I play the game, or anything."

Milledge also said he was thrilled to be back at "his natural position" after playing mostly right field with the Mets, saying it would help him offensively, as well. In parts of two big league seasons, he has hit .340 with an .877 OPS as a center fielder, and only .246 and .727 as a right fielder.

Ayala Better After Gunshot

Reliever Luis Ayala reported to camp Thursday after being held up in his native Mexico by visa issues. Ayala, a right-hander, says he still has some numbness in his left hand, the result of an incident in December in which he was accidentally shot in the left shoulder by a bird hunter during a fishing trip with friends.

"I was just in a bad spot," said Ayala, who added he never identified the shooter. "I heard the shot and was surprised. We didn't see anybody."

Ayala said he had intense pain and numbness in his fingers -- from a nerve going from his shoulder, where the shotgun pellet remains lodged, to his fingers -- in the first two weeks after the incident, but it has gotten progressively better.

Ayala threw an eight-minute bullpen session Thursday and said he is fine to pitch.

Zimmerman's Contract Discussed

Brodie Van Wagenen, the agent for third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, met Thursday with Nationals President Stan Kasten and General Manager Jim Bowden in the executive offices of Space Coast Stadium, part of ongoing discussions about a long-term contract extension for Zimmerman, but little progress was made, according to a source familiar with those talks.

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