Nationals Notebook

Milledge Aims to Earn Go-Ahead on Base Paths

Nationals Manager Manny Acta chats with players from Georgetown University after a scrimmage.
Nationals Manager Manny Acta chats with players from Georgetown University after a scrimmage. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
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By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 29, 2008

VIERA, Fla., Feb. 28 -- In 115 major league games, Lastings Milledge has stolen four bases and been caught attempting to steal four times. Yet asked Thursday if he could regularly steal 30 bases a year, the response was swift: "Definitely."

Milledge, the 22-year-old outfielder entering his first year with the Washington Nationals, stole second and third in his first exhibition game with the team Wednesday night. That performance -- in which Milledge went 2 for 3 with a double and scored two runs -- underscored the fact that, for now, Manager Manny Acta has given Milledge the right to run when he wants to.

"He has that desire," Acta said Thursday. "He wants to be a guy who steals 30 or more bases. He likes to run. We already had our talk, and he understands if he shows me he can run successfully, you go for it."

Milledge stole 79 bases over parts of five seasons in the minors. But if he steals them at the same rate -- he was thrown out 38 times for a 67.5 percent success rate -- Acta will take away the "green light." Milledge said Acta wants him to steal successfully at least 74 percent of the time.

"If I fall below, he's going to limit me," Milledge said. "I got to work hard and get my steal percentage real high and keep it up there so I can have my way out there."

Bergmann Gets Started

Right-hander Jason Bergmann made his first start of the spring, albeit not against major league competition, in Thursday's 15-0 blowout of Georgetown. Bergmann pitched two innings, allowing a walk and no hits while striking out three.

"I was able to locate my fastball," Bergmann said. "That's one of my goals, to have a fastball that I could put either inside or outside."

The competition, though, played into Bergmann's stats. He said one of his strikeouts came on a curveball that was left over the middle of the plate and might have been drilled by a major league hitter. Still, he said, "I'm not going to nitpick over February curveballs." . . .

Acta played four regulars -- Dmitri Young, Ronnie Belliard, Ryan Zimmerman and Austin Kearns -- against Georgetown. Each stayed in for just one at-bat. Zimmerman had a clean single and Young a bloop single that dropped between the second baseman and right fielder. Georgetown had twice as many errors (eight) as hits (four). . . .

Acta said lefty Mike Hinckley, who was ranked as the organization's top prospect by Baseball America in 2005, will likely transition to the bullpen this year. Hinckley, 25, has not risen above Class AA Harrisburg, where he had a 5.83 ERA last season. Acta said his curveball might eventually make Hinckley a good left-handed specialist. . . .

Right-hander Tyler Clippard, acquired in an offseason trade with the New York Yankees for reliever Jonathan Albaladejo, will make his Nationals debut Friday against Florida.

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