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Nationals Notebook

Acta Impressed By Kearns's Power Surge

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Nationals right fielder Austin Kearns looks forward to Nationals Park and explains why he will not miss RFK Stadium. Video by Jonathan Forsythe/washingtonpost.com

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By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 13, 2008

VERO BEACH, Fla., March 12 -- Austin Kearns is not going to stand outside a locker room after a Grapefruit League game and make predictions about how many home runs he can hit. Goodness knows enough people have projected power numbers for him already. But he will make one allowance: "Better than last year," he said.

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Kearns hit his first home run of the spring Wednesday, a three-run shot that helped the Nationals to a 10-4 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. The drive came off Jason Johnson in the fifth inning, and it continued a mild revival for Kearns, who now has four hits in his last 10 at-bats after he got off to his traditional slow start in the spring.

"I like the way he is driving the ball," Manager Manny Acta said.

Kearns hit only 16 homers and drove in 74 runs in 2007, slugging a career-low .411. He was openly disappointed, and has pledged to do better.

"I feel like I'm going in the right direction," Kearns said. "I expect everything to improve."

Weaver's Status

The Nationals appear torn on whether to seriously pursue free agent right-hander Jeff Weaver, who remains unsigned 2 1/2 weeks before Opening Day. One source said there are two camps in the front office -- those who would like to sign Weaver to a low-risk, non-guaranteed deal, if he would accept such a contract; and whose who would prefer to steer clear of him altogether.

"I don't know which way it will go," the source said.

Weaver, 31, went 7-13 with a 6.20 ERA with Seattle last year. . . .

Left-hander Mike O'Connor began Wednesday's victory over the Dodgers by walking speedsters Juan Pierre and Rafael Furcal, a debacle that led to three stolen bases and two runs -- without a hit. But O'Connor righted himself, throwing five no-hit innings, walking only one other batter and striking out four, spotting his fastball and showing a sharp curve.

After minor elbow surgery after 2006, O'Connor struggled to a 7.07 ERA in 15 starts for Class AA Harrisburg last year. Now, O'Connor -- and club officials -- believe he is healthy, and it's showing.

"My velocity, I feel like, is better than it was last year," he said. "Last year I wasn't getting swings and misses on fastballs in Double-A."

Still, it remains unlikely O'Connor would make the rotation out of camp. But Acta said he is helping his case.

"He's in the mix," Acta said. "He's one of those guys that we feel comfortable that if anything happens, we can go grab him." . . . Shortstop Cristian Guzman went 2 for 5 with a double, driving in four runs. He is now hitting .394 on the spring.


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