Next Stop For Lopez: The Outfield

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 3, 2008

PHILADELPHIA, April 2 -- Felipe Lopez has played at third base, at shortstop and at second in his major league career. He began this season on the bench.

"I'll catch if I have to," Lopez said.

Apparently, not too much of a stretch. With starting left fielder Wily Mo Pena out with a strained oblique muscle and backup Elijah Dukes lost for perhaps a month or more with a strained right hamstring, the Washington Nationals are planning on moving Lopez to the outfield -- almost certainly beginning with Thursday's game against the Philadelphia Phillies.

"This is a guy that's always had good jumps and angles on baseballs," General Manager Jim Bowden said. "You've seen him on popups and fly balls. He's always been one of our better guys on that, so I think you could put Felipe at second, short, third, right, center, left."

Lopez, who has just one at-bat in the Nationals' first three games, took some fly balls during batting practice. He has never played the outfield in his life, he said.

"My initial reaction is: at-bats," Lopez said. "I get to be in the game."

Since Dukes strained his hamstring in Sunday night's opener, the Nationals had used utilityman Willie Harris in left. Lopez, though, has more offensive potential.

"He's a very good athlete," Manager Manny Acta said. "We approached him about it. He's got a great attitude, and saying he has no problem with it. I think it will be good for him to get those at-bats."

Pena, however, could be back by the middle of this month. "I think Pena's going to be back sooner than we expected," Bowden said, "but I think Dukes is going to be longer than we expected."

Bowden said the club would be careful with Dukes's hamstring; he has a Grade 2 strain.

Lannan Set to Return

The Nationals will likely recall left-hander John Lannan to start Sunday's game in St. Louis, a move that would reward the team's best starter during spring training while allowing the other members of the rotation to pitch on their regular four days of rest.

If Lannan pitches Sunday, Tim Redding -- who beat the Phillies, 1-0, Wednesday -- would pitch Monday at home against Atlanta.

"We're leaning toward John Lannan," Bowden said. "He certainly would have earned [the right] to be part of our rotation in spring training, but we'll make that determination after Saturday's game, what we decide to do."

Lannan posted a 2.18 ERA in five spring outings, striking out 16 in 20 2/3 innings.

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