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Team Spends First Night in New Park Banging on Walls

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Washington Nationals spent 90 minutes on their new home field yesterday evening, getting used to a swirling wind and taking balls off the walls in the outfield. The Nationals had just that batting practice session and tonight's exhibition game against the Baltimore Orioles to familiarize themselves with Nationals Park prior to tomorrow night's opener against Atlanta.

"Right off the bat we've got to try to see if we can get any home-field advantage to this place," Manager Manny Acta said.

Right fielder Austin Kearns reacted to balls hit off the wall in right, where there are three different materials -- a 14-foot wall in front of the stands, a screen in front of the home bullpen and padding above the screen.

"It depends on where it hits," Kearns said. "You kind of have to be ready for anything."

The wind swirled in the outfield during batting practice, appearing to blow in from left and out in right at times. The other nook that jumped out: the short distance between home plate and the backstop wall -- a surface that is characterized by a stone face.

"You don't know where the ball's going to go once it hits the wall," Acta said. "The rocks back there are kind of diagonal coming off the wall."

Acta, Zimmerman: The President's Men

Nationals President Stan Kasten announced that third baseman Ryan Zimmerman would join Acta in tomorrow night's ceremonial first pitch, which is scheduled to be delivered by President Bush. Kasten made the suggestion to the ownership group of the Lerner family.

"We all thought it was wonderful," said Mark Lerner, son of principal owner Theodore N. Lerner. "We know how important it is to Manny as a new citizen of the country and what a great honor it would be for him. And 'Zim' is our future, and he's representing all the players. . . . It really didn't take too long to make the decision."

Kasten said Zimmerman and Acta were the only members of the organization who were considered for the honor.

Lack of Velocity Doesn't Worry Cordero

Late in spring training, scouts who monitored the Nationals were concerned about a lack of velocity from closer Chad Cordero, whose fastball normally is in the 88-91 mph range but had topped out at 87 mph in spring. Cordero, though, said he is aware of the problem.

"I was working on some things," he said. "I wanted to work on my slider and my change-up, and I knew where my fastball was. I'm not worried. My velocity will be there."

Cordero had a 3.00 ERA in nine spring appearances, seven of which were scoreless. He gave up five hits and one walk. . . .

Acta said right-hander Tim Redding, who came out of his final Grapefruit League start with back spasms last Sunday, pitched six effective innings in a minor league game at the team's spring complex in Viera, Fla. Acta said Redding is on schedule to start Wednesday's game at Philadelphia, the third game of the season. . . .

Outfielder Elijah Dukes rejoined the team after dealing with a legal issue in Tampa on Thursday. He is expected to be in the lineup tonight against Baltimore, as well as for the opener. . . .

Kasten encouraged fans attending tomorrow night's opener to be in the park -- or in their parking space -- by 6:30 p.m. for the 8:15 p.m. start because of extra security and street closings for Bush's appearance.

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