Milledge May Be Placed in Corner for '09

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 20, 2008

As a center fielder, Lastings Milledge is still experimenting with the variables, searching for whatever works. "Do I play shallow, deep?" he said yesterday, just giving an example. "I'm trying to figure out what I'm most comfortable with."

While Milledge, 23, continues his adaptation to the new position -- he played primarily in left and right field while with the Mets in 2006 and 2007 -- the Washington Nationals' front office has its own, corresponding questions about what works. To the point, is the team comfortable with Milledge as its starting center fielder in 2009?

Yesterday, speaking at a lunchtime question-and-answer session with fans at ESPN Zone downtown, General Manager Jim Bowden suggested that the Nationals would explore a position change in the outfield "to upgrade our defense."

Bowden didn't name names, but no hint was needed: Elijah Dukes, currently Washington's starting left fielder, has the natural talent to shift to center. Milledge's play this season leaves little question about his value to the team's future, but his defensive skills -- where he's played exclusively in center -- have fluctuated with little explanation.

The decision about Milledge's position remains unresolved. Manager Manny Acta often has defended Milledge's outfield play this season. Milledge said yesterday that nobody from the organization has talked to him about a potential swap next year, a change that Milledge said he would accept.

"Moving to the corner might not help anything," Milledge said. "You might have to cover the most ground in center, but it's the easiest as far as routes go."

Before yesterday's game, Milledge and the team's fellow outfielders met in the clubhouse with coach Jerry Morales and former major league center fielder Devon White, a roving instructor within the organization. They reviewed positioning and shared tips about San Diego's hitters.

White said that it's too early to judge whether Milledge can make it work as a center fielder.

"Who's to say he is a center fielder? Maybe he is a corner guy," said White, who played from 1985 to 2001. "But at this [juncture] with the organization, that's the position he has to play right now."

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