López Could Go From the Bench To Cubs' Infield

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 22, 2008

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla., March 21 -- The Washington Nationals insist they will not be pressured into a trade of second baseman Felipe López just because López has publicly declared himself unwilling to sit on their bench -- and they have also strongly suggested that is where López would be if the season started today.

However, two rival baseball executives confirmed Friday that the Nationals are actively shopping López, and the Chicago Cubs are among the teams that have had a scout following the Nationals in recent days -- including Friday, when López started at second base against the New York Mets and went 1 for 3 with a single and made one error, his fourth of the spring.

The Cubs are seeking a second baseman, and have been in discussions with the Baltimore Orioles for months regarding Brian Roberts. But Cubs officials have expressed doubt about a deal being reached with the Orioles, and apparently are exploring additional possibilities.

At the start of camp, the Nationals declared firmly that Ronnie Belliard was their starting second baseman and veteran Cristian Guzmán their starting shortstop -- with López, who can play either position, on the outside looking in.

"The performance [this spring] on the field has corroborated [that] position," General Manager Jim Bowden said. "The best player plays."

López's single Friday raised his spring batting average to .208 with one homer and three RBI, but Belliard is hitting .439 with three homers and seven RBI in 41 at-bats. On Tuesday, López bristled at reporters' suggestion that he might be asked to sit on the bench, saying, "Bench? . . . Hell, no."

Asked Friday about López's comment, Manager Manny Acta said: "I'm going to try to keep my best team on the field and do what I can to keep as many guys involved, but attitude is a choice and I can only control mine. . . . I'm not going to make my decision based on what a guy says in the paper, or what [is written in the media] or what any of those guys think."

Lo Duca Catches vs. Mets

Veteran catcher Paul Lo Duca caught five innings Friday, in his first Grapefruit League action, following a rehabilitation of a torn meniscus in his left knee. He went 1 for 3 against his former teammates and threw out Mets shortstop Jose Reyes from his knees on an attempted steal of third. Afterward, Lo Duca said he felt 100 percent, but acknowledged he likely would get Saturday off, then attempt to play back-to-back games Sunday and Monday.

"The knee is not an issue," he said. "I'll be ready." . . .

Left fielder Elijah Dukes (hamstring) played Friday for the first time in a week and appeared to tweak the injury while running out a double in the first inning. However, he remained in the game and said afterward he is able to play through some slight soreness. . . .

Bowden said there remains a slight chance catcher Johnny Estrada (elbow) could be ready for Opening Day, but most likely Estrada will begin the season on the disabled list, with Wil Nieves making the roster as Lo Duca's backup.

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