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Wednesday, March 26 at 1 p.m. ET

Washington Nationals Spring Training

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Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 26, 2008; 1:00 PM

Live from Florida, Washington Post writer Barry Svrluga was online Wednesday, March 26 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.

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A transcript follows.

Svrluga covers the Nationals beat for The Post and writes the Nationals Journal blog for washingtonpost.com. He's also the author of "National Pastime: Sports, Politics, and the Return of Baseball to Washington, D.C."

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Barry Svrluga: Greetings folks. Two more games down here -- right this very minute against the Braves and tomorrow against the Orioles. The Nationals will then fly home and get their first glimpse of Nationals Park at around 9 p.m. I can tell you a couple things: They're ready to get outta here, and they can't wait to see their new digs.

Let me make sure that those of you online-only types know that in today's $.50-edition lies our baseball preview section. Make sure you pick it up. Tons of Nats stuff in there.

Roster will be set today. Pretty straightforward.

Let's chat.

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Anonymous: How surprised were you that the Nats released Patterson? Do you think it was a good move?

Barry Svrluga: I have to admit: I was surprised when it went down. No question. But I also admit: Once I thought it through, I think it made sense.

This would not have happened in previous years, when the Nationals didn't have a bunch of decent prospects -- Collin Balester, Tyler Clippard, Garrett Mock and John Lannan -- sitting at Class AAA Columbus. But they just werne't in position for him to rebuild himself on a major league field. A very dramatic move, but I think the thinking was sound.

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Fairfax, Va.: If Christian Guzman reverts to pre-2007 form, who do you think will lead off?

Barry Svrluga: Good question. I think it could be one of two people: Felipe Lopez or Lastings Milledge.

Anyone who's been reading the coverage knows that it seems like Ronnie Belliard and Cristian Guzman will be the middle infielders, with Lopez as their reluctant backup. But if Guzman were to go down, Lopez -- despite his .308 OBP from last year -- could slide back into the leadoff spot.

I have to say: Though Lopez has not produced much down here, he has, in general, hustled. And he was in the clubhouse the other day telling Belliard and Guzman -- in Spanish, which I broke down with some help -- that he would support them if they won the two jobs.

Milledge is quite fast. He's not a good OBP guy -- yet -- but he'd give the Nationals some speed at the top, and he could put the team up by a run in the first at-bat of the game.

Those would be my guesses.

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Rockville, Md..: I was stunned when I read that Patterson had been released. I root for the Nats for sure, though I am not a huge baseball fan and am wondering, does this move speak more to the promise of young talent or the frustration that he was often injured and rather unreliable?

Barry Svrluga: You got it, Rockville. See that earlier answer. I definitely think that's a huge chunk of it.

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Washington, D.C.: Barry -

Moving into the new stadium with a full year of ownership under their belts, it seems like a fair time to evaluate the Lerners and Kasten. They have shown commitment to building at the minor league level, but not yet at the Major League level. Are they going to pay to keep the great players they have, or are they stocking the system to continue to hope to have a competitive team despite a low payroll such as the Twins? Given the market and ticket prices, I'd hope it's the former.

Barry Svrluga: This is a great question and, indeed, will be a key portion of the evaluation going forward. To be fair, the ownership group has done nothing different than it said it would do when it took over, which is build the minor league system and be very, very conservative on free agents in the early-going. (I always think of Stan Kasten telling me the story of warning the Lerners that fans "will call you cheap, and they'll probably call you cheap bastards.")

But the key will be exactly what you bring up: When those players they develop in the system become eligible for arbitration or free agency -- i.e., Ryan Zimmerman -- will they step up and pay market prices to keep them?

In this regard, I think Zimmerman is the test case. He and the team are not close on an extension, though there's no pressure to get one done now. But it will be a very interesting case to watch going forward.

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Herndon, Va.: Will it be possible to welcome the Nats home tomorrow at Dulles if we go to the airport?

Barry Svrluga: They land, I believe, in a private area for charters. You're probably better off going to Nationals Park and waiting for the bus at Potomac Ave and South Capitol Sts.

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Insider info: Long ago there were rumors that more racing presidents would be added. Any updates?

Barry Svrluga: Can't confirm. But in an election year, I'd watch out for updates on that situation. (Could we see a run-off between a giant Clinton and Obama? Perhaps.)

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Alexandria, Va.: Sorry, but I'm done. Been a season ticket holder since 2005. Endured last year's endless stream of running out AAA guys and retreads/hasbeens/neverweres to the mound. Promises of a new ballpark and hints that the Lerners would undo the purse strings when that happened made it more bearable.

Our opening day starter, our ace, is a guy that no other team in baseball wanted. A guy we signed to a minor league deal fresh off a 8 win, 5.66 season.

The Lerners aren't serious about this team, and therefore neither am I.

Barry Svrluga: Alexandria: I think this is absolutely the kind of reaction of which the Nationals must be wary. If they are going to make promises -- and Jim Bowden just said that with the new ballpark comes new revenue and that means expanded payroll -- then they must follow through.

Even though, to this point, I think they've stuck with their original plan, they risk alienating loyal fans if they don't improve the product -- and soon.

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Arlington, Va.: What chances remain to get Opening Day tickets? I understand there will be a limited number of grandstand tickets available at the box office on Sunday afternoon. Do you know how many? Will I have to camp out to get them? Any tips or info would be great. Thanks for all the great coverage this spring, Barry. I can't wait for the first pitch!

Barry Svrluga: The Nationals announced this morning that the $5 seats -- those that will be held to day of game throughout the year -- will be available Sunday as well. My advice: Get there early. Here's a section of the official release:

Grandstand tickets for Opening Night, in Sections 401 and 402, may be purchased for $5 at the Nationals Park Main Box Office, located on Half and N Streets, beginning at 3:30 pm on March 30. Fans may not camp out on Nationals Park grounds or line up for tickets prior to 3:00 pm. Fans may purchase only one ticket per person and must immediately enter the ballpark through the Center Field gates, located next to the Main Box Office. Please note, fans may not re-enter the ballpark once they exit through the gates at any time. The Grandstand seats are available for purchase only on day of game when gates open at Nationals Park , normally two and a half hours prior to first pitch.

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Harpers Ferry, W.V.: I was a little upset when i was unable to find a single mention about Clint in the baseball preview today. One would assume that at least a whole page would be devoted to the man that makes it all happen at the ballpark.

Has there been any discussion about swapping Zimmerman and Johnson at the 3 - 4 spot in the line up? I would think it would be tempting to have Johnson and his high OBP hitting before Zimmerman who seems to hit really well with men on base.

Barry Svrluga: Ah, Clint. Perhaps he'll see his shadow and head into hybernation again.

That's an interesting question on Zimmerman and Johnson. Though I haven't asked Manny Acta it directly, I think I can picture his answer. He believes Zimmerman is his best hitter, his most productive RBI man, and he wants to get him as many ABs as possible.

In an excellent lineup, Johnson could hit second because of his OBP. But in this lineup, I think that's unlikely.

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Backseat Manager: I think Dukes has the potentila to be a better hitter than Kearns, and probably will be. How long do you think Manny leaves Kearnsy in the 5 spot if Dukes performs better?

Barry Svrluga: That will be one to watch. I agree: Dukes has a lot of potential. But I think that if Kearns can draw walks and get on base a bit more -- plus, obviously, hit for more power than he did a year ago -- he'll likely stay where he is, at least for now.

In talking to scouts, they believe that in a good lineup, Kearns would hit sixth or seventh. So if he moves there, you know one of two things is happening -- he's struggling, or the Nationals are developing (or perhaps some combination of the two).

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Arlington, Va.: Seriously, of the five guys starting in the rotation, how many of them would make another team's rotation? I'm tired of guys "battling" and being "gutty." How about "talented"? I want a guy -- just one will do (for now )-- who can throw peas through a battleship.

Barry Svrluga: A great point. I think a healthy Shawn Hill starts for a lot of teams (but an injured Shawn Hill doesn't even start for the Nationals). Odalis Perez would not be the Opening Day starter for almost anyone, but I think he would be a very serviceable 4 or 5 for lots of teams. Chico: It remains to be seen if his new mechanics make him a better pitcher, but he was, let's remember, a league-average starter last year (ERA of 4.63, NL average for a starter was 4.64). Bergmann: The guy from April and May last year starts for lots of team. The guy from August starts for very few.

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Silver Spring, Md.: What is the Nats training regime, and who are its trainers? It seems that a lot of players are getting muscle problems, which often comes from a lack of hydration and stretching. Have the Nats looked at how other teams are keeping players healthy?

Barry Svrluga: Lee Kuntz is the head athletic trainer, and he came over from the Indians' organization. They monitor all that stuff -- hydration, stretching, etc. Those guys are run ragged at spring training, trying to work with 76 guys (at the start of camp), etc.

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Washington, D.C.: To those who are so negative on the Nats ownership and front office, I'd like them to name a player they would have liked the Nats to have signed. With our young pitching on the way, is it worth it to pay Carlos Silva $10 million per year or Barry Zito $20 million? I just don't see it and I like the way they are developing their young talent base after having the best draft in baseball.

Barry Svrluga: This is actually the flip side that the team would (and does) argue. There is smart money to spend in free agency, and there is throwing money at undeserving targets.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Alexandria's overreaction to "the Plan" is absurd. To ditch the team because of the opener pitcher and conclude that the Lerners aren't serious is itself a joke, not worthy of an observation that this might be a fan trend. Had the Lerners paid hundreds of millions for Santana and bid on A-Rod before the Yanks re-signed him we might have kept Alexandria in the fan base.

Barry Svrluga: Indeed, I think that reaction is a small segment of the population. However, this is all a bit of a poker game, a gamble that fans will be patient with the development of the team.

(Oh, and by the way. If and when the Nationals become a winning team, I would expect those folks like "Alexandria" to forget their bitterness.)

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Washington, D.C.: Given what happened with Patterson, do you think Hill is facing any additional pressure to show he can stay healthy this season?

Barry Svrluga: It's a bit of a different situation. Patterson had a non-guaranteed $850,000 contract, and the Nationals could pull the plug on him and pay him just a quarter of that salary. Hill is younger (26, as opposed to 30), cheaper ($400,000) and probably has a higher up-side. Though Acta is very clear when he says that the club can't just count on Hill because of his history, I do not believe they are ready to pull the plug on him yet -- not close.

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University Park, Md.: Barry, it doesn't look like the Nats can keep Mackowiak, Harris and Langerhans -- one of them has to go someplace before opening day. And another one seemingly would have to be dropped once Pena comes off the DL. Any sense as to how the club is looking at this situation?

Barry Svrluga: I believe it will be Langerhans who loses out. He has a split contract between the majors and the minors, and the club likes Harris as a speedster/pinch runner/utility guy/25th man. Mackowiak has a guaranteed $1.5-million deal, so cutting him doesn't make sense right now.

When Wily Mo comes back, things get a bit more dicey.

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Section 214: Barry, Thanks for the great coverage! Dare I say this? The Post is doing a great job! Anyway, I read that Nick Johnson might be traded. I'd hate to see that happen. What teams are interested? Also, whats up with the possible trade of Lopez?

Barry Svrluga: Thanks, Mom. Always appreciated.

Johnson: Yes, I think he could be traded as teams see that he is healthy. I think they'll want proof during the regular season, but he is very in shape and is starting to swing the bat well here.

Lopez: His $4.9 million contract makes him more difficult to trade. The Cubs are obviously interested in upgrading on Mark DeRosa at second base, but don't appear interested in Lopez. The Nationals have worked on moving him, but have been unsuccessful. Lots could happen the first month of the season.

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Captiol Hill: Has Odalis Perez looked any better in spring training than he has during the regular season the past few years? And on a more practical note, can we bring food into the new stadium?

Barry Svrluga: I did not see Perez during his time in Kansas City, but I would say that from what I've seen here, he has pitched very well. He has a very good changeup. Now, pitching coach Randy St. Claire would like to get him to mix things up a bit more. "The changeups not as good if he throws five of them to the same hitter," St. Claire said yesterday.

As an Opening Night starter? Yes, it seems odd. But as a serviceable guy in the rotation? I think Perez will fit in, and improve on his 5.77 ERA of last year. (Wow, that's a high number.)

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Rockville, Md.: I wish everyone would chill with the ownership bashing! It could be worse, we could all be Orioles fans!

Barry Svrluga: Then, there's that.

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Maastricht, The Netherlands: Barry,

If you were a closer what would you're entrance song be? I'm going with "Lose Yourself" by Eninem

Barry Svrluga: I think that is an excellent, excellent option.

Was just asking a couple of guys about their at-bat music today. "I'm still knocking around a few options," Ryan Zimmerman said. He's always gone with rap. He may mix in some other stuff this season.

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Barry Svrluga: Game update: Top of the third, scoreless. Chico has looked good thus far, allowing just a single in two scoreless frames. Fastball is consistently at 87-88, much better than the 83-84 he pitched at last year.

Nats without a hit the first time through the order, though Zimmerman walked and Cristian Guzman just did the same.

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Washington, D.C.: We had dinner at the Fat Snook last week and loved it - thanks for the great recommendation, Barry.

Barry Svrluga: Hey, that's great. I was thinking about heading there last night but ran out of steam after a long drive back from Jupiter (town, not planet).

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Washington, D.C.: What are your thoughts about Justin Maxwell coming up during the season if Wily Mo or Kearns slumps/is injured? Saw him in Spring Training and he looks pretty close to making the Leap.

Barry Svrluga: I am one of the few who isn't completely sold on Maxwell (only because he has such long arms). But the club loves him, he has a great attitude, and Manny Acta said the other day that he was one of the most impressive parts of camp, how he handled himself in his time with the big club.

I think it's possible that if a player goes down for an extended time, the team would reach down to Class AA Harrisburg to get Maxwell.

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Reston, Va.: Barry,

Who are the top three young arms you are most impressed with in spring training and who were the most disappointing arms now in minor league camp?

Barry Svrluga: Tops on this list would be John Lannan. His stuff is far from over-powering, but man is he composed. I was talking to him earlier in camp about how he'll be booed in Philadelphia for the rest of his life because he broke Chase Utley's hand in his first major league start, and he said, "I can't wait."

Watch Adam Carr and his rise through the minors. This guy was a hitter in college at Oklahoma State, but the Nats drafted him as a pitcher. He brings it hard (97-98). He was a bit all over the place in his only appearances in Grapefruit League games, but that's to be expected. He could shoot through the system.

And I'll jump on the Balester bandwagon. I think, since we've heard about him for so long, it seems like he's been slow coming up. He's only 21 and has plenty of time to develop further.

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Glen Echo: Hey Barry

The Nats are fortunate enough to have Dimitri Young to watch out for and mentor Elijah Dukes. The history is not the same but is anybody charged with making sure Felipe Lopez does not become a clubhouse distraction???

Barry Svrluga: I think Manny Acta is the man in charge of that. Remember: Lopez is 27 and has been a major leaguer for years. Dukes is 23 and has had far more off-the-field problems than Lopez (whose childhood was troubled).

Acta has known Lopez a long time. He's very clear that he doesn't treat players differently, but he has put a lot of time and effort into developing Lopez over the last year, and I think he'll continue to try to save him.

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Germantown, MD: Would the average fan notice the change in Chico's delivery?

Barry Svrluga: Yes, I think it's dramatic enough. He really brings the right leg high up -- not quite like El Duque, all tucked in, but his knee is up to his chin. He had much more of a slide-step before.

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Why Not?: The Nats will most likely finish, at best, around .500 this year and probably just out of the NL East cellar. So. Why not further develop some of those young arms in AAA at the ML level under the guidance of Randy? What's the downside to having them pitch this year at the ML level? They are going to have to do it someday.

Barry Svrluga: There are different schools of thought on this, but the Nationals' generally believe that they want their players to succeed at whatever level they're at rather than rush them and have them struggle. Two examples: A couple years ago, they rushed shortstop Ian Desmond to Class AA Harrisburg, and he bottomed out. It's taken the better part of 18 months for him to recover. The Nats, along those same lines, are likely to start top prospect Chris Marrero at Class A Potomac this year rather than pushing him to Harrisburg.

And the club also believes the current rotation -- Hill, Redding, Perez, Bergmann and Chico -- deserves to pitch at the major league level. If one of them goes down, expect to see Lannan.

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section 307: People need to relax about Perez opening up the stadium. Hill is ace, but he'll be a couple weeks late getting to Washington, so we make due with whoever fits best for the other 161 games. Anticlimatic, yes, but not a reason to quit on this team.

Barry, do you get a sense of the order of the AAA team? I assume Lannan will be the first one up, but what order would you put the other four guys in?

Barry Svrluga: I don't know the order yet, but I'm not sure it matters. If you want a ranking of their standing in the organization, I'd say it's Balester, Lannan, Mock, Clippard and O'Connor. If you want the order they would come to the majors, I think it's Lannan, O'Connor, Clippard and then flip a coin.

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The Golden Triangle : So are the cherry blossoms in the ballpark going to bloom by opening day?

Barry Svrluga: I don't know. I was home over the weekend, and the blossoms seemed to be starting to bloom in my neighborhood. How about some of you folks up there? Are they starting to bloom around the Tidal Basin?

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Falls Church, Va.: Is our pitching staff really that much better than a year ago? Really?

Barry Svrluga: If it's healthy, yes. No Jason Simontacchis, Mike Bacsiks, Billy Trabers (yes, I know he's a Yankees), etc. The guys they would call up when there's injuries have more potential (though they might get shelled their first time around).

And don't forget the bullpen. This is a rock-solid group. Spring ERA of the seven guys who will make up the pen -- Cordero, Rauch, Ayala, Rivera, King, Hanrahan, Colome -- is 1.38.

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Washington, DC: Here's my problem: I want to cheer for Johnson and Belliard to do well this season. But I feel that the better that they do, the more likely that they are to be traded. What do I do?

Barry Svrluga: Ah, the rough side of being a fan. Here's what I'd say: I'd root for those guys, just like you root for any of them. If they're traded -- and that's a big if -- they would only bring better returns if they produce in Washington. I think what you're ultimately rooting for is a contending team in 2009-10. Whether Belliard and/or Johnson are playing well for the Nationals then or not, if they play well, they'll help improve this team.

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Atlanta, GA: Trust me, Alexandria and his/her ilk will be back. We've seen it happen in Atlanta. If all the people who say they were die hard Braves fans in the 70s and 80s had actually been in the stands at Fulton Co. Stadium, it would have been a sell out every night.

I've seen Nats Park, it's a beauty even though getting there won't be. It'll be a beaut, but not a beauty!

Odalis Perez is a cocky guy, but I think he can handle the Opening Day 'pressure.' Enjoy it if you're going. I wish I could!

Barry Svrluga: Good points all around. The Nats have to avoid what happened to the Braves. If and when they build a sizable season-ticket base -- and no, they're not there yet, not with 17,000-18,000 -- they have to make sure they keep it and grow it, not let it wither away, as has happened in Atlanta.

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Metro Center: I am hopelessly devoted to the Nats.

That said, I'm worried. I fear that the promise of the new stadium will be wasted. I was at the GW-St Joes game, and was not impressed with the non-baseball stuff they were practicing. Nor am I happy about the fact that they seem to think that we won't notice who's on the field because it's so nice and new. And while the new scoreboard is nice, it's not a baseball game.

I want a solid team, built to last. I want management that respects the game, not just the money that comes from the game. And I want management that recognizes that this is a DC team, not a generic MLB franchise.

Please Stan, Ted, Mark, remember that the fans you can build your base on are the baseball fans. And not just the baseball fans, the WASHINGTON DC (and surroundings) baseball fans. Pay attention to the game and to our identity. The other stuff is all secondary.

Barry Svrluga: These are all interesting points. I fear that some baseball traditionalists won't enjoy the ballpark experience at Nationals Park. Remember, Stan Kasten has a background in the NBA, and the experience at Turner Field in Atlanta has a lot of stuff that's seems peripheral to baseball. His philosophy is that if you're catering just to baseball fans, you're cutting out a significant portion of your potential fan base.

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Rockville, Md.: Barry,

I really think this team is going to miss Wily Mo for awhile. He seemed to be a nice addition to the lineup last season and this spring. Any idea on how long he will be out?

Barry Svrluga: Manny Acta said yesterday that Pena's recovery from his severely strained left oblique muscle was going better than expected. He strained it on March 12, and the original recovery time was announced as four weeks, though the club privately believed it could be 4-6 weeks. Now, Acta is hoping it could be "three-to-five, or maybe a legit four."

And yes, Jim Bowden is fond of pointing out that the Nationals scored a run more a game after Pena's addition last year. But with either Dukes or Pena in left, you'll get to see whether a player with enormous potential will get to realize it.

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Culpepper, Va.: During spring training, the focus always seems to be decisions like Belliard/Lopez are set in stone. And then a few weeks in, we realize how silly that can be. Do you think Lopez's head is still in the game? Because the Nats appear to be relying really heavily on Guzman, a guy who hasn't been both healthy and good for more than a month straight since he came to the Nats (or even before that). And there's no one else even in sniffing distance of the roster who can handle short. Lopez isn't a very good SS, but unless he's traded I'm thinking he might just end up back there at some point or at second if Belliard has a bad start.

Barry Svrluga: This is all very possible. We spend lots of time agonizing about this stuff early in spring training or early in the season, and, as the players say, "Things usually work themselves out."

Guzman had a hot start to the spring and leads the team with 11 RBI here, but he's tailed off recently. Lopez's attitude is good. The key will be whether he maintains that attitude if and when he's told he's headed ofr the bench.

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Washington, D.C.: I know we should temper our expectations during spring training, but it's hard to do so with Milledge is it not? It is easy to imagine that deal becoming notorious in a few years.

Barry Svrluga: I have to say: I've been impressed. Very quick hands. Hits the ball hard. Willing to go the other way. Should be an exciting player.

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Barry Svrluga: Folks, I've got a ton of work to do for tomorrow's paper. Thanks for joining me. As usual, lots of unanswered questions, and my apologies for that.

Mark Teixeira hit a two-run homer off Matt Chico in the fourth, but that's the only scoring. Braves 2, Nationals 0.

Enjoy Opening Night -- whether you're one of the 41,888 allowed in or you're watching on ESPN. I'd say stop by and say hi, but you'd need a sherpa to get up to the press box.

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