Nationals Notebook

Nationals Notebook: Hernández Will Open Season on Disabled List

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 2, 2009

DUNEDIN, Fla., April 1 -- For the moment, Anderson Hernández still has some tightness in his left hamstring. And as a result, the Washington Nationals will enter the first week of the season without their starting second baseman.

Hernández will be placed on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to March 27 -- a decision that temporarily gives the starting job to Ronnie Belliard, and provides Alberto González a spot on the Opening Day 25-man roster.

"I don't think it will be a long-term type of thing," Manager Manny Acta said of Hernández's injury. "We just want to make sure he's 100 percent when he's activated. It's more a precaution with him than anything else."

On Wednesday morning, Hernández took a few ground balls at the team's spring training complex in Viera, Fla. He felt okay -- but not well enough to recover within five days, when Washington opens the season against the Marlins. Though Hernández strained his left hamstring on March 25 and has not played since, March 27 is the earliest date a team can backdate a 15-day disabled list transaction. Hernández will be eligible to return on April 11.

With Hernández out, González, already on the 40-man roster, will start the year with the Nationals, Acta said. A final roster spot remains for a position player, almost certainly to be filled by either a third catcher (Wil Nieves or Josh Bard), Kory Casto or Alex Cintrón.

Kearns or Dukes in Right

Acta made it clear on Wednesday that left field (Adam Dunn) and center field (Lastings Milledge) are settled. The only starting position up for grabs remains right field, where either Elijah Dukes or Austin Kearns will win the job.

Now add this to the equation: Dukes, Acta said, "is struggling right now. Period."

On Wednesday, in a 7-6 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, Dukes went 0 for 3 with three strikeouts, and afterward spent extra time in the cages with hitting coach Rick Eckstein. Dukes, according to Acta, is pulling his head when swinging and failing to use all parts of the field. This spring, he has struck out 19 times in 47 at-bats.

Kearns, meantime, crushed a 430-foot home run earlier this week, tying him for the team lead with three. He also has a .525 slugging percentage and .275 batting average.

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