Unlikely Power Likely to Keep Harris in Lineup

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 24, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO, July 23 -- So long as the power remains, Willie Harris will remain in the starting lineup. A Washington Nationals season long impeded by lack of power from their outfielders -- the Nationals have the worst outfield slugging percentage in baseball -- has received a sudden injection of home run hitting from the player least likely to provide it.

Harris's seven homers this year, in 162 at-bats, equals the career total from his previous 1,243 at-bats. As a result, even when Washington starting center fielder Lastings Milledge returns from a groin injury -- he could join the team by the weekend, Manager Manny Acta said Wednesday -- Harris will not return to the bench. He'll shift from center and serve as the team's starting left fielder.

"Yeah, that's the plan," Acta said. "The way Willie is playing right now, it will be very tough to get him out of the lineup."

Harris, with three home runs in the past week, can hit them better than he can explain them. His best guess about the surge? He thrives on confidence, which only flourishes and grows with consistent at-bats. But no, he said, he doesn't feel like he's in a zone.

"The ball is flying out," Harris said, shrugging. "I don't know what's going on. Truly, I don't know."

Lo Duca Wants to Catch

Paul Lo Duca is stuck between a rock and first base. Though he emphasized that he doesn't mind remaining with Washington through the season, he said that ideally, he'd like to be traded this week to a contending team that needs him as a catcher. For that to happen, though, Lo Duca must prove he can still catch. And right now, the Nationals need him at first base. They also need Jesús Flores behind the plate.

"I understand what the team needs, but I look at it like they're going with youth. I feel like I can catch, and I'm not in the works at catcher here anymore," Lo Duca said. "Manny has done a good job of trying to get [me] at-bats, but I still feel like I'm a catcher. Whether that happens, who knows. . . .

"It has to be the right situation. I want to go to a team where I'm going to be a part of that team. Not just go somewhere and suck up a ring. I want to be part of a ring if I get that chance."

Boone's Injury Lingers

Aaron Boone's left calf strain was supposed to be a minor injury, something just bothersome enough to keep him out three games after the all-star break. Instead, Boone's injury has lingered, and after batting practice Wednesday, the team determined that Boone would have an MRI exam late Wednesday night.

During the afternoon before that determination, Boone had spent a few minutes on the field jogging but still had no estimate on when he might return. "It just needs time to get better," he said.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company