Long-Range Plans May Carry Into the Summer

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Washington Nationals are by no means a power-hitting club. No member of their regular lineup has hit as many as 30 home runs in a season. Still, there was some measure of curiosity for the team about how their new home, Nationals Park, would play, particularly after they departed cavernous RFK Stadium, where crushed balls often turned into warning track outs.

The conclusion? "It's fair," Manager Manny Acta said.

If anything, statistics would indicate that the park slightly favors pitchers, though the Nationals' lineup might have something to do with that. Through the first 18 games at the new yard -- in which Washington is 10-8 -- Nationals Park is yielding 0.86 homers per game, lower than the National League average of 0.94. The Nationals themselves are almost equally inept at home (0.55 homers per game) as on the road (0.57 per game). RFK, where the Nationals played from 2005 to '07, gave up 0.83 homers per game.

"I think as the weather got warmer, we see the ball carrying a little bit better," General Manager Jim Bowden said. Bowden pointed out there seems to be something of a jet stream to left-center field, right where the red seats of the Red Porch restaurant are located.

Overall, the Nationals' total of 18 home runs was last in the National League entering last night's games. Philadelphia's Chase Utley, who plays in homer-friendly Citizens Bank Park, had 13 homers himself.

Playing the Percentages

Since Acta inserted second baseman Felipe López into the starting lineup on April 18 at Florida, he has been rewarded with a different type of player. Though still capable of brain lapses from time to time -- he twice failed to sprint down the line during the just-completed homestand -- López has reached base safely in 13 of his past 16 games, a span in which he is hitting .323 with a .389 on-base percentage.

"His attitude has been phenomenal," Bowden said.

López and shortstop Cristian Guzmán have a combined on-base percentage of .365 from the leadoff spot, 40 points higher than Washington leadoff hitters a year ago.

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