López Has Reclaimed His Spot in Lineup

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 23, 2008

ATLANTA, April 22 -- During spring training, Ronnie Belliard was one of the Washington Nationals' best players, and Manager Manny Acta's decision to name him the starting second baseman over Felipe López was fairly easy. But the Nationals' offense has scuffled, and Belliard is hitting just .214. Thus, at least for now, López is back as the starter.

"He's going to pretty much have to take himself out of it," Acta said. "He played himself into it with the lack of offense that we had, and he's been making things happen for us, getting on base over the last four games."

Tuesday was López's fifth start in a row, and he went 2 for 5 with an RBI single in the Nationals' 6-0 victory, making him 8 for 20 (.400) as the starter. He also became John Smoltz's 3,000th strikeout victim in the third.

"Wherever they put me, I'm going to play," he said. "I'm not going to put any pressure on myself, like I got to stay hot. They know what I can do. I know what I can do. I said it from the beginning. I'm just going to play hard every day."

López, who began the 2007 season as the Nationals' leadoff man, will continue in that role for now, moving Cristian Guzmán to second. Acta said he likes López leading off because he takes more pitches and runs more often than Guzmán.

And clearly, the win made becoming Smoltz's historic victim -- he is the 16th pitcher with 3,000 strikeouts -- easier to deal with.

"It's cool after you take a shower and watch ESPN," he said. "You're like, 'Wow.' "

Peña Gets Day Off

A day after being driven to tears by an 0-for-4 performance that dropped his average to .100 (3 for 30), left fielder Wily Mo Peña got the day off.

"I went to him and just told him that it's okay," Acta said. "It's early. He's going to be back to his old self."

Willie Harris got just his fifth start of the year and went 2 for 3 with an RBI double and a walk. "It just feels good to contribute," Harris said.

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