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Versatile Harris Moves In While Belliard's Out

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 21, 2008

This season, Washington Nationals utility player Willie Harris has started exactly zero games at shortstop and zero games at second base. But because of his ability to fill those positions in an emergency, he's also the reason the Nationals have elected to swap -- at least temporarily -- a middle infielder for another bullpen arm.

On Monday, the team placed Ronnie Belliard -- one of just three Nationals to start a game this year at shortstop or second -- on the 15-day disabled list because of a left calf strain.

Yesterday, before the game against the Phillies, the Nationals recalled right-handed pitcher Chris Schroder from Class AAA Columbus.

The move reveals Harris's value and the primary reason his career has lasted so long, in spite of a .244 career batting average.

"We're fortunate to have a guy like Willie Harris who can play everywhere," Manager Manny Acta said.

Though Harris has played corner outfield this season, he began his minor league career as a middle infielder. He first played outfield when, during a game in Class A ball in the Orioles' organization, his friend, Tim Raines Jr., was knocked from the game. On a whim, the manager asked Harris to give outfield a try. Soon enough, he had impressed both the team's general manager and the Orioles' minor league director, who suggested Harris could prolong his career with versatility.

"I took that to heart," he said, "and that's why my career has lasted. As far as comfort goes, I can play anywhere. Losing Belliard is not a plus at all, but I'm always ready when I'm called on."

Kearns Day to Day

Still bothered by his sore elbow, right fielder Austin Kearns skipped batting practice yesterday and was held out of the lineup. The team, for now, considers Kearns day to day. An MRI exam revealed no serious damage, Acta said. "Treatment and all that, he should be okay in a few days."

"It's been getting better," Kearns said. . . .

First baseman Nick Johnson, on the disabled list with a torn ligament in his right wrist, is wearing a heavy cast, as opposed to the removable cast he wore originally. Johnson said the change does not indicate something unexpected in his recovery. He will wear the cast for two weeks.

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