VIERA, Fla., Feb. 26 -- He is the forgotten man, off to the side and out of the way.

"It's not hard," Brandon Claussen said, "but it is different."

Claussen is the veteran left-hander the Washington Nationals signed in January despite the fact he was coming off surgery on his left shoulder. He went 3-8 with a 6.19 ERA for Cincinnati last season before the August surgery to repair a small tear in his rotator cuff.

The Nationals' projection was for Claussen to be ready sometime around midseason. His idea is a bit different.

"I'm shooting for May," Claussen, 27, said. "They've kind of held me back a little bit, which I completely agree with. That's their job. My job is to throw strikes. But I think that's a pretty realistic goal."

For now, Claussen is throwing on the side on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Rotation ThoughtsBob Boone, the Nationals' director of player development, said he is considering using six-man pitching rotations at the lower levels of the minor leagues to preserve some of the club's promising young arms. "We stress them by putting a workload on them that they've never had," Boone said. "We've got to be very careful. They don't have mature arms."

Boone said, for now, it's "just an idea I'm messing around with." He said he could even make the change well into the season.

Home Takes PriorityManager Manny Acta said that when split-squad games begin -- the Nationals play only three such games this spring -- he and the entire major league coaching staff will remain at Space Coast Stadium. "I think our home crowd deserves that," he said.

Acta is also trying to build continuity on his new staff. Class AAA Manager John Stearns and his coaches will manage the traveling team in split-squad situations. The first of those is Sunday, when the Nationals host the Dodgers and play in Kissimmee against Houston. . . .

Acta said shortstop Cristian Guzman is on target to play in the field for the first time March 7. Until then, he will serve as a designated hitter to get him at-bats and protect his surgically repaired right shoulder. With Guzman and outfielder Alex Escobar both needing at-bats but unable to play in the field, Acta said the club is trying to arrange with its first 10 opponents to use the DH even in National League parks. The Dodgers already have said they would do so for Friday's opener in Vero Beach.

Play Ball

The Nationals play the first of two straight intrasquad games at 11 a.m. today at Space Coast Stadium. The club has enough pitching lined up to play full nine-inning games.