Nationals Notebook

Pérez's Long Journey to Opening Night

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 30, 2008

On Feb. 15, when the Washington Nationals' pitchers and catchers convened at spring training in Viera, Fla., Odalis Pérez was still a man without a job. Tonight, he completes an almost unimaginable turnaround: from unemployed, perhaps-spent veteran to Opening Night starter on national television.

"Before I came to Washington," Pérez said yesterday, "I never expected for me to be the number one in the starting rotation."

A number of planets had to align for this to come to pass. Right-hander Shawn Hill entered the spring in line to start the opener, but he came down with soreness in his right forearm and will begin the season on the disabled list, tentatively scheduled to make his first start April 13. Right-hander John Patterson, last year's starter on Opening Day, struggled to rebuild his arm strength after a series of surgeries to correct nerve problems over the past two years, and he was released.

Pérez, thus, found himself pitching in exhibition games in Hill's spot. Tonight -- despite the fact that he had a 5.57 ERA in 26 starts for the Kansas City Royals -- he will oppose the team with whom he broke in, the Atlanta Braves. Pérez has never started an opener.

"The first time I went to the all-star game, I saw a lot of things," he said. "But I can't imagine what I will see tomorrow."

Pérez has appeared in seven games against the Braves in his career, making six starts; he is 1-3 with a 5.21 ERA. He will be opposed by right-hander Tim Hudson, who went 4-0 with a 0.60 ERA against the Nationals in 2007.

Batting Order Unveiled

With Nick Johnson named the first baseman and Ronnie Belliard the second baseman, Manager Manny Acta unveiled his batting order in the Nationals' 3-0 victory over Baltimore last night, a lineup he believes will be much more potent than last year's, which produced the fewest runs in baseball.

Shortstop Cristian Guzmán is the leadoff hitter, with new addition Lastings Milledge batting second. Acta believes Milledge's potential for power could occasionally "give us a one-run lead in the first inning."

Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman will hit third, the spot in which he hit in all 162 games a year ago, with Johnson -- the only true left-handed hitter in the lineup -- batting cleanup. The last four spots will be right-handed hitters -- right fielder Austin Kearns, catcher Paul Lo Duca, left fielder Elijah Dukes and Belliard. . . .

Right-hander Jason Bergmann was effective, if a bit wild, in his final preseason start, throwing five innings of one-hit, shutout ball, walking four and striking out three against the Baltimore Orioles at Nationals Park. Bergmann threw 80 pitches, but just 44 for strikes, and finished the spring with a 2.08 ERA.

"It was definitely cool," he said. "But it only lasted for one pitch. After that, you have to go to work. It's cool to have your own park, your fans. It's only half full right now, and it's pretty loud out there."

Bergmann had one word for his control: "Poor." He will start the fourth game of the season, Thursday in Philadelphia.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company