Wednesday, March 19 at 1 p.m. ET

Washington Nationals Spring Training

Video
In the wake of new Redskins head coach Jim Zorn's gaffe at his introduction press conference, where he incorrectly identified the Redskins' team colors as "Maroon, black and yellow," we decided to take an informal poll to find out how many members of the Washington Nationals know that the Redskins sport the 'burgundy and gold.' Video by Jonathan Forsythe/washingtonpost.com
Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 19, 2008; 1:00 PM

Live from Florida, Washington Post writer Barry Svrluga was online Wednesday, March 19 at 1 p.m. ET> to take your questions and comments about how the Nats look this spring, the new stadium and what to expect from the team this season.

A transcript follows.

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Barry Svrluga: Greetings folks. Thanks for stopping by. The Nationals' only off day of the spring is today, but that doesn't mean there's nothing going on here. Shawn Hill threw a live BP session this morning that went well (more on that on Nationals Journal). Jason Bergmann is going to throw in a minor league game (it's his turn today) that starts right now. I am sacrificing seeing that so I can hang out with y'all.

Lots of questions. Let's roll.

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Washington, D.C.: Barry - How many Nats do you think would start for all but the elite teams in MLB? Going into this season, I would have said just Ryan Zimmerman for the position players. Rauch I think would be prominent in any bullpen, too (close, set-up, or primary middle guy). Having seen Milledge, I think we can add one more.

P.S. - don't say Chief outside of a big ballpark near a cardiac ward.

Barry Svrluga: I absolutely agree. I have been really impressed by Milledge. I may have written this elsewhere, but he seems to have a real plan when he's taking batting practice. He's not an outstanding outfielder right now, but offensively the ball just jumps off his bat. You know the guy has bat speed if you saw the homer he hit against Detroit yesterday. That came off Jeremy Bonderman, a legit starter, and it was a bomb. For a relatively little guy to hit the ball that far, he has to explode through the zone.

And yes, Rauch and Luis Ayala could have prominent places in almost anyone's pen. And keep an eye on Joel Hanrahan. It's possible -- possible -- this guy has figured it out.

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Alexandria, Va.: Do you know how many tickets are being raffled by the team for opening night?

Barry Svrluga: I don't have an exact count, but it's not very many. They released 4,000 earlier, and season ticket holders -- of which there are 17,000-18,000 -- were allowed to buy extras, so that could certainly bump it up. Accounting for taking care of big-wigs and sponsors and the like, I'd say maybe a couple more thousand.

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Fairfax, Va.: Barry-

It seems likely now that the Orioles will trade Brian Roberts to the Cubs, and you say that the O's have been scouting the Nats. Do you really believe that the O's would make a trade with the Nats? Do they have anybody left to trade?

How many trades do you think Jim Bowden makes before Opening Day?

Barry Svrluga: This will be interesting to watch, the dynamic between the Nationals and Orioles. Stan Kasten and Andy MacPhail are quite close and have enormous respect for each other, so my guess is that any animosity between the two markets could be broken down by the relationship between the two club presidents.

This second base situation could be interesting to watch. In addition to Lopez and Belliard, the Nationals have Bret Boone and Pete Orr and even Willie Harris, who has played some second. There's certainly enough wiggle room for them to make a trade. But in order to find someone willing to take Lopez, they'd have to have someone trying to win now (Lopez is a free agent after the season) and that someone would have to believe Lopez would help in that process.

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Washington, D.C.: Talk on the comments section of the NJ is a Felipe Lopez for Hayden Penn deal. That would be nice for the Nats.

Barry Svrluga: I think that is a bit of a dream-world scenario. My understanding is that Penn could easily end up in the O's rotation early in the season (though he was already sent to minor league camp). And the Orioles simply aren't looking to win now. They're in a rebuilding process that is very similar to what the Nationals are doing, and that does not/should not include bringing on a veteran second baseman/shortstop whose contract runs out at the end of the season.

I would keep an eye on the Nats and O's, however, if the O's trade Roberts and the Nats still have the Pete Orrs of the world. A lesser name could be dealt then.

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Blacksburg, Va.: Is there anyone in the organization who could come close to playing shortstop at the major league level if both Guzman and Lopez become unavailable (by trade or injury)? If not, it should be a safe bet that both guys are going north with the team right?

Barry Svrluga: Oh, it is absolutely a safe bet that they're both going north with the team. I think Lopez's comments in the $.35/$.50-edition this morning were really made out of competitiveness. He wants to play. He feels like he came here with a good attitude -- a feeling backed up by everyone around him -- and thinks he can bounce back this year.

That being said, the Nationals want to see what Guzman can do when healthy given that he had a .380 OBP last year, and Belliard is just crushing the ball. It'll be interesting, no doubt.

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Arlington, Va.: Barry,

How is Wily Mo handling his injury so far? Does he look to be maintaining the same time frame?

Barry Svrluga: It's early, and there's really no way to tell because he is not allowed to do any sort of physical activity right now. The injury is less than a week old. In general, though, oblique muscles are very finicky because they're involved in all sorts of movements. If he's back in four weeks, great. I wouldn't be surprised if it's six, though.

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Arlington Nats Fan: If Felipe Lopez doesn't begin the season as a starter, doesn't that greatly lessen his trade value? Or is he not worth that much to begin with?

Barry Svrluga: It is a worthy question, and something that will have to be considered. To some, this might seem like backwards thinking, but ...

... Belliard is obviously professional about his role. He'll do what Acta asks him. There is some thinking that if the team benches Lopez, then it could lose him mentally for the whole season. There isn't that risk with Belliard.

A squeaky-wheel-gets-the-grease theory? No doubt. But every decision has a ramification, and the Nationals must consider them all before naming a starter.

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Richmond, Va.: Hey Barry,

We are coming to Florida this weekend and have tickets to a Nats game. How early can we get there to see the minor league guys in action?

Barry Svrluga: Unfortunately, with all the minor leaguers now here, the games are moved till later in the day -- 1 p.m., right when the major league games start. If you're coming to Thursday's home game, a 7:05 p.m. start, you can get there early for the minor league game (which basically seem like scrimmages).

You can, however, come at 10 a.m. or so and watch the minor leaguers work out and take batting practice.

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Washington, D.C.: Love your work but:

Nats have a logjam up the middle? They have three guys who wouldn't start on any contending team.

Also, can you please stop saying Dukes and Dameathook had issues and problems. One threatened to kill a woman and her children while the other committed a heinous act of violence against his girlfriend. Pretty serious stuff.

Barry Svrluga: Hey, I didn't say they had a logjam that would cause a problem for the Yankees. It's their own special logjam. They love it because it's there.

The other stuff is quite delicate, and I always think about how to phrase it.

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Chevy Chase, D.C.: Barry:

Can we talk frankly? How short is Dukes leash? Will a misdemeanor end his stay? Or will it take a full-fledged felony?

Barry Svrluga: You think we're here to talk dishonestly? This is a frank chat. That's what we're here for.

The description that the Nationals gave when they traded for Dukes in December was that it would be very close to a no-tolerance policy. But anyone who read my story yesterday on him understands, too, that the club is not just trying to keep him quiet, they're trying to rehabilitate him, coming at it from many angles. I would think any sort of brush with the law would be enough, but I would also think there would be an innocent-till-proven-guilty aspect to it, too.

This is a complicated situation, and the Nationals are treating it as such.

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Bethesda, Md.: Hey Barry,

Given all of the uncertainty surrounding the current health and effectiveness of John Patterson and Shawn Hill, who would you put your money on to take the mound for the Nats on Opening Night?

Barry Svrluga: Man, this is a tough one. Hill won't start that day (my money's on the 6th for him) and Patterson is slated to start March 31 in Philadelphia, though it'd be nice to see him rebound from his last outing.

Tim Redding openly lobbied for the start yesterday. Odalis Perez's turn currently falls on that day, so I suppose that wouldnt' be the most shocking development.

I can't go out on a limb right now. I'm going to plead the fifth. I just feel like something's going to be tweaked in the next several days, and we'll have a clearer answer.

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Section 319: Barry,

What's your guess on the Johnson/Young competition? I know Dmitri hasn't played much, but it sounds like Johnson is finally back to his old self. Is Dmitri's role as Dukes' mentor going to tip the scales in his favor?

Barry Svrluga: Nick Johnson will be the first baseman -- barring a trade.

I just can't see it working out any other way. Young is not yet in good playing shape. Johnson is starting to find his swing -- his 3 for 3 with a walk and a double yesterday was about as good as he's looked, going the other way with the ball. And Johnson is simply a much better fielder.

Young's role as Dukes's mentor won't play a role in determining playing time, I don't believe. If he's truly to be a mentor, then he would have to act as a professional even when he wasn't playing.

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Class Act : Barry,

The Yankees flew to Blacksburg, Va., yesterday to play the Hokies in an exhibition game to fulfill a promise made by George Steinbrenner after the mass murder at Virginia Tech last April. That plus they donated a cool $1 million to the Hokie Spirit fund. Too bad the Nats couldn't have worked out a similar game since we are the closest MLB team to Blacksburg and in essence, their hometown.

Barry Svrluga: A very nice gesture by the Yankees, no doubt. And the players who made the trip were impressive, too.

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Croton-on-Hudson, NY: Barry, the main criticism of Felipe Lopez is that he has attitude problems and that he doesn't work hard. But that's at odds with what you quoted Manny Acta saying.

What is your impression of Felipe's effort this spring?

Barry Svrluga: There were definitely those criticisms about Lopez last year, when he was not focused and was not working hard -- by his own admission. Acta's praise of him comes from this spring, when he seems to have turned it around in those regard.

I think Lopez has played hard this spring. The results, however, have not been there as they have for Guzman and Belliard.

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Cream Ridge, N.J.: You've quoted at least three of the starters as saying it would be a honor to pitch the opener at Nationals Park, but the Nats would give the ball to Odalis Perez? That doesn't seem to make a lot of sense.

Barry Svrluga: Unfortunately, the Opening Night start at Nationals Park has more to do than with just that one night. The Nationals are cognizant of what it means, and they want to put out the best pitcher possible. But they don't want to move anyone if it might upset a routine or force the pitcher not to be at his best.

This is a complicated equation. Perez, too, believes it would be an honor. And remember: He hasn't been named the starter for that day. It just works out that that would be his turn if they kept things the way they are now.

We'll see.

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GTown: What's going to happen with the Rule 5 picks, Whitney and Guzman?

Barry Svrluga: They are currently trying to make trades with their original clubs -- Cleveland and Minnesota -- but are not terribly optimistic it'll work out. Guzman is a bit of a 'tweener -- a good hitter with no pop and not terrific speed. Whitney has some more power and I think they'd like to keep him, but they're not going to trade a true prospect for him.

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Washington, D.C.: Hill - old and injured

Patterson - old and injury prone

Redding - old

Perez - old

Chico - young and talented

Bergman - young and more talented

So Bergman should be OD SP...

Barry Svrluga: Hill: 26 is old? Wow, I'd love to be able to think that.

Patterson, Redding and Perez are all 30. Also not that old.

Chico: Still working some things out, but may have discovered something in his delivery that will make him a better pitcher. My hunch is he gets to work on that in Columbus.

Bergmann: I don't think that's the craziest thing I've ever heard. They'd only have to hold him back one day.

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Washington, D.C.: Reading between the lines, I find it hard to draw any conclusion about Shawn Hill's forearm other than that something is still wrong and it's going to stay with him this season. Question: do you know of pitchers managing such a condition (chronic forearm tightness/soreness) successfully over the course of a long season? If so, could you please give some examples? If not, I'm ready to not get my hopes up in the slightest for who should be the Nats' best starting pitcher this summer.

Barry Svrluga: Jim Bowden has mentioned a few pitchers he's dealt with -- Jose Rijo and Norm Charlton -- as having pitched through similar ordeals. The fear is that problems in the forearm tend to creep into the elbow. That hasn't been something the team of doctors who have seen Hill has said, and everyone insists there are no structural problems. Hill has already had elbow reconstruction surgery, so it's unlikely he'd have it again.

The hunch: If it's just discomfort, he'll pitch with it. If it develops into sharp pain, he won't.

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Missing the action?: I've heard reports the back rows of sections 139-142 (behind the Nationals bullpen) in the new stadium won't be able to see fly balls. Is that true?

Barry Svrluga: Don't know. Will check.

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Rosslyn, Va.: Barry -- Judging by the comments in the latest Nationals Journal video posting, have you seen the sense of humor of your commenters? Their persecution complex is already in midseason form.

Let Jon Forsythe know that was brilliant and to keep up the good work.

Barry Svrluga: Wow. Just checked out a few of the comments. Serious backlash there. I think Forsythe's videos have been a nice addition to the Journal for the second year in a row. But I'll make a note not to mention the ahemSkinsahem to the Journal loyalists. Yikes.

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Bethesda, MD: Would you describe John Patterson as a "head case?"

If he doesn't pitch at least 20 games this season, will the Nationals finally cut bait? I've always liked JP, but I'm getting tired of reading these quotes from him.

Barry Svrluga: Patterson is a very interesting guy who analyzes himself very carefully. And he is quite honest about assessing himself for reporters. He's always trying to pinpoint exactly what went wrong or right.

Yes, he absolutely has times where stuff he can't control -- a bloop single, an error, etc. -- bothers him. But I think whether the Nationals bring him back will depend both on his health and on how much the talent around him develops. It's possible the Nationals could be in position within a year or two where if Patterson can't pitch, it won't matter as much, because there's talent on the way.

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Rockville, Md.: Responses to two items posted already in the chat.

Re: Nats and VT. If I recall correctly, the Nats broke out the VT hats immediately after the tragedgy and did plenty to support everyone in Blacksburg. The Yankees through big George decided to do more, but don't bash the Nats, who've been very responsive.

Opening Day starter: Who started the opening game at OP@CY for the Birds? If you had to look it up, then being the opening starter for Nats Park shouldn't be too big a deal.

Barry Svrluga: Duly noted on both counts, Rockville.

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Washington, DC: We always hear that the Wizards have a great locker room, which I take to mean a room few of professionals and few, if any, knuckleheads or cliques.

How would you describe the Nats locker room?

Barry Svrluga: It seems to me the Nationals' clubhouse is pretty good thus far. Hard to tell until we know the exact mix. But baseball clubhouses are a tad different than basketball locker rooms. There are twice as many guys, and considering there are players of different nationalities, it makes sense that some cliques or groups develop. That's no different here.

I've asked some guys about this, and all they care about is how the guys play on the field. They could be annoying in the clubhouse, but if they put everything they have into winning, then they'll be just fine with their teammates.

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Young: Not in good playing shape? How could he let that happen? He is a major leaguer who got a big contract in the offseason. The fact that he is not in playing shape, with opening day a few days away, is a major red flag! Maybe he hasn't turned that corner, everyone is talking about.

Barry Svrluga: Keep in mind, however, that he is battling diabetes. I don't mean that to be a free pass. I do think it is a factor. The club is saying that they are tweaking Young's medicine to help find a way that he can get in better shape.

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NattyDelite!: Hey Barry,

Has there been any indication of any move for a highly touted middle infield prospect? I have to think that our bullpen, which is the only place with a real logjam (Schroder, Colome, Rauch, Ayala...the list goes on!), Bowden can find someone who a team with a weak bullpen (coughyankeescough) could bite on. How do we get our MI to where it needs to be?

Barry Svrluga: This might be the organization's most significant need -- a near-major league ready shortstop or second baseman. They have some guys they like in the low-minors -- Esmailyn Gonzalez and Stephen King and Ian Desmond, etc. But they don't have that real hot commodity that could step in if Guzman and/or Lopez went down.

I would expect this to be addressed in the draft, however. And yes, if they can find someone who wants a Nick Johnson or a Dmitri Young or some bullpen help and they're willing to part with a top-flight middle infield prospect, I'd expect the Nats would make that deal. They know both Lopez and Guzman are gone after this year, anyway.

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D.C.: A friend in Philly told me that Mitch Williams (now some sort of radio personality in Philly, apparently) feels that Sean Hill's throwing motion guarantees that he will have continued chronic elbow problems. Williams was predicting that, absent a complete change in mechanics, Hill will never last a year.

I'm not sure how much credence to give to someone nicknamed "Wild Thing," but have you heard anything similar about Hill?

Barry Svrluga: I have not heard that, and to my eye, there's nothing strange about Hill's motion. However, Mitch Williams certainly knows more about pitching that I do. It's an intriguing thought, and I'll ask around about it.

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Tijuana, Baja California: Why are the Nats using the designated hitter in home games, and even in games against NL opponents. It is bad enough that we have to suffer this stupidity when they play in AL parks, why do the use it when they do not have to? Why are they allowed to use it??

Barry Svrluga: They will stop using it now. It's a way to get more position players at-bats through the first several weeks of spring training. They can, say, give Ryan Zimmerman some at-bats without having him play the field, or allow Nick Johnson or Dmitri Young to play first base one day and DH the next, getting six or seven or eight at-bats.

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Forget SP, who's catching?: Considering injuries, which catcher will start opening day?

Barry Svrluga: I still think it's Lo Duca, who is reporting no problems and is catching Jason Bergmann as we speak. But believe me, we'll have to monitor that situation over the next week. Lo Duca is scheduled to be the designated hitter tomorrow night, then catch in a major league game on Friday.

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Alexandria, Va.: Let's not forget that Bergman practically no-hit the Braves last year....

Barry Svrluga: Indeed. And he has beaten John Smoltz as well.

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Reston, Va.: I don't really understand what Bret Boone is doing. He appears to be a long shot to make the team and has said that he will not play in the bus leagues or accept a bench role. Why is he wasting his time at Spring Training?

Barry Svrluga: I think Boone wanted to prove to himself that he could still do it. He clearly put behind some personal issues and wanted to see if he could still play. He's had some moments this spring, but I agreee -- unless there's a trade, there's no fit for him on this team. He might, however, accept a trade elsewhere.

He's hitting only .189, I believe. But his defense has been better than I would've expected.

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Stadium Name: Hey Barry, what's going on with the sale of the naming rights to the new ballpark? Why don't you start a contest on your Nats Journal soliciting some fun corporate names from your readers. I kind of like the ring of "Five Guys Park,", myself.

Barry Svrluga:"Five Guys Park" would be great, though let's hope that's not how many people show up each night.

I talked to Stan Kasten about this last week, and I'm going to write about it before we leave here. They're quite comfortable going into the new park without a naming rights deal. Kasten describes it as more complicated and more important than any other sponsorship because it's for so long and for so much money. But I'll lay it out there in a story pretty soon.

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Alexandria, Va.: It was looking like Chico was the odd man out, but now that his stuff is apparently vastly improved due to the new windup, how is the organization viewing him?

Barry Svrluga: The new windup has been used in only one start, so it's not enough to truly say he's a changed man. However, it's an encouraging place to start. I think he becomes the odd man out because they can tell him to go refine that motion in the minors, and he could very well be the first guy called up when/if someone goes down. (Who's kidding who on the "if"? It'll be "when.")

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Reston, Va.: How many games do you predict Shawn Hill will start this year?

Barry Svrluga: I'll go with 24. I'd love to say 34, but I'm realistic. Or maybe 24 isn't realistic. He's only made that many starts once in his eight-year pro career.

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Is D.C really ready?: What's your prediction on Opening Day traffic jams? Is parking and shuttling from RFK going to work out?

Barry Svrluga: The good thing about Opening Night is that it's on a Sunday, so they can kind of walk through everything without the crush of traffic that would happen on a weeknight.

Right now, I have no idea on the RFK shuttle and how well it will work. But it will be one of the many things we'll be watching on that first night. The more important date, in some ways: April 7, the first regular-ol' home game that falls on a weeknight. That could be a true test.

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Time for Some Predictions: Barry,

Time for you to give us a W/L prediction for the season and final standings in the NL East. Here are mine. 81 - 81. .500 ball. Next to last place in the NL East. 1. Mets 2. Phillies 3. Braves 4. Nats 5. Fish.

Barry Svrluga: I think 81-81 would be a fine accomplishment. I'm not ready to pin myself down just yet, though I'd say anywhere from a five-eight game improvement over last year's 73-89 mark would be where I'll fall.

As for the NL East, I'm having a tough time at the top. Think both the Mets and the Phillies have flaws, but given the age of some of the Mets' key parts, I might be more concerned about them.

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Blacksburg, Va.: How do you feel about the mentality that Perez has not earned his possible role as the opening day starter because he has only been on the roster for a couple of weeks? Do people in the organization also share these views or are they just looking for the best option to win the game?

Barry Svrluga: The problem I have with that view is, who HAS earned that right? Shawn Hill is 6-10 lifetime. John Patterson is 18-25. Jason Bergmann is 8-8. Tim Redding is 24-40.

It's not like Perez would be chosen over Smoltz and Hudson or Peavy and Chris Young or Dan Haren and Brandon Webb.

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Arllington, VA: If Nick Johnson looks like the Opening Day 1B at this point, is Da Meat Hook okay coming off the bench? He'd seem to have less trade value and is also part of the Dukes "support structure"?

Barry Svrluga: Playing Johnson from the start could also serve to increase his trade value as he proves himself healthy. The Nationals could trade Johnson for pitching or a middle infield prospect and then move Young into the starting spot and have improved their club because of it.

That said, I'd love to see what Johnson could do in a full season in Washington. Really changes the lineup in a way no one else on this team can (left-handed, high OBP, etc.).

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Washington, DC: I'm pretty confident Rick Sutcliffe pitched for the Orioles in their first game at Camden Yards.

Barry Svrluga: I have not looked that up. Could be.

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Barry Svrluga: Folks, I've got to get to writing. Thanks for dropping by, and by the time we chat next week, it'll be just four days before the opening of Nationals Park, and we should have some answers to the position questions and the rotation.

Also, tune back in here tomorrow at 1:30 p.m., because Ryan Zimmerman is having a chat. Should be fun.

Have a great week.

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