Nationals Notebook

Lastings Milledge to Bat Leadoff for Washington Nationals

By Chico Harlan and Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, March 23, 2009

KISSIMMEE, Fla., March 22 -- Lastings Milledge likes the idea of batting first. He'll face pitchers reluctant to walk him. He can get on base, steal second and wait for a ride home from Cristian Guzmán, Ryan Zimmerman or Adam Dunn. "I'm going to be an aggressive leadoff hitter," Milledge said.

More than anything, Milledge embraces the idea of having a defined role -- especially following a season in which others' injuries shuffled him from second to sixth to third to fourth. This year, Milledge will bat leadoff, a decision Washington Nationals Manager Manny Acta revealed on Sunday.

Though Acta admitted that his team lacks a "bona fide leadoff hitter," he selected Milledge for the job, citing his improving patience and ability to steal bases. In addition, Guzmán, the other player Acta considered, is a switch-hitter; placing Guzmán second allows for a right-left-right-left order against right-handed starters.

Kasten Stands Firm

President Stan Kasten was dismissive of reports that college pitcher Stephen Strasburg and agent Scott Boras might seek a six-year, $50 million contract. But Kasten also stood firm in discussing the Nationals' negotiating position toward their top overall draft pick ("whomever it may be," he said) -- implying the team was not interested in blowing up the established signing-bonus framework for anyone.

"A hundred years of baseball and four decades of collective bargaining have shown how you develop players and how they proceed through the system," Kasten said. "There's a time for drafting, a time for development, a time for arbitration and a time for free agency. No one situation can change the whole sport, even less so these days, with where the economy is now."

More Zeros for Lannan

Between Sunday's scoreless six innings and his previous exhibition start on March 8, John Lannan didn't start a game. Or at least a real one. His lone appearance was a five-inning shutout in an intrasquad game on March 14. As a result, when Lannan walked into the visiting clubhouse Sunday and saw Houston's lineup -- a legitimate challenge, with Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee and Miguel Tejada -- Lannan felt a jolt of excitement.

"I was ready to go," he said. "I've been waiting for it."

Though Lannan had some nitpicking complaints about his ability to throw first-pitch strikes in what ended as a 1-0 loss, his performance reassured the Nationals that their Opening Day starter is ready. Through 12 innings this spring, Lannan has not allowed a run. His pitch count against the Astros ran into the mid-70s, and he'll make two more starts this spring -- plenty of time to stretch himself out before April 6.

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