When Harris Returns, It Won't Be to the Infield

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 27, 2009

PHILADELPHIA, April 27 -- Willie Harris's recent trip to the 15-day disabled list didn't just allow recovery time for a left oblique pull. It also coincided with a position change. When the Washington Nationals activate Harris on Tuesday, he will return primarily as an outfielder, not an infielder.

Moving Harris to the outfield reflects not only the team's plan for its most versatile player, but also its desire to aid the development of reserve outfielder Justin Maxwell. When Harris, whose 26 innings this year have all come at second base, becomes the team's fifth outfielder, it likely means that Washington will return Maxwell, 25, to Class AAA Syracuse.

"I think our preference will be that Maxy gets more at-bats," Manager Manny Acta said.

At the start of the season, Harris seemed pegged primarily as an infielder -- especially because of Washington's outfield depth. But then, Lastings Milledge was demoted. Roger Bernadina, recalled as a replacement, fractured his ankle. Maxwell, recalled as the replacement's replacement, was miscast as a back-up -- only because his development requires regular at-bats. Since his promotion to the big leagues April 19, Maxwell has started just one game.

On Wednesday, Washington will make one more roster move, activating Cristian Guzmán (left hamstring strain). That move will result in either Alberto González or Alex Cintrón being sent back to Class AAA.

Straight to the Top

When Guzmán returns, he will bat at the top of the order. One of the freest swingers in baseball, Guzmán does not fit the prototype for the role. But he is better than Washington's other options. This year, Washington leadoff hitters are batting .203 and have zero extra-base hits. Though Guzmán lacks patience at the plate, Acta believes the shortstop's hitting ability can compensate.

Guzmán, at the time of his injury, was hitting .515 (17 for 33).

"I expect him to continue to hit the way he's been hitting for last few years, even though we know he doesn't walk as much," Acta said. "You know, he's making up his on-base percentage by just flat-out hitting. We like what Nick [Johnson] is doing in the number two hole, and we want to keep it going."

Asked if Guzmán could be encouraged to swing at fewer pitches, Acta said, "I think it's too late for me to ask Cristian Guzmán to become a patient hitter. He's been doing it for so long. I don't think it's gonna happen right now."

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company