Dukes no lock for starting position
Manny Acta refused to commit to Elijah Dukes as the regular right fielder Wednesday saying the job is still up for competition between him, Austin Kearns, and Josh Willingham. Dukes had an excellent start to the spring but has fallen to .234/.333/.362 in a cold Florida outing.
Kearns on the other hand has been hitting very well, putting up a line of .275/.408/.525. For those of your out there with poor arithmetic, that’s an OPS of over .900. Willingham has made noise as well as he hopes to find at bats both in the outfield and at first base. The former Marlin has posted a line of .227/.346//432.
Whether or not Acta is really serious about not giving the job to the potential packed Elijah Dukes is uncertain. It’s very possible that Acta could be using this as a ploy to get Dukes to work harder, provoke trade interest and value in Kearns, and to prove that he does not expect complacency in his club this year.
However if Acta were serious, it would have to be a result of Kearns exceptional play and not that of Dukes slow start. If Acta were after all the players with poor spring numbers than Lastings Milledge wouldn’t have been named the leadoff hitter with an on base of .275, Guzman and Zimmerman would both be in trouble with a batting average below .220, and Willie Harris would be somewhere in Japan right now. Also, lest we forget, Elijah Dukes was quite possibly the worst hitter in the National League early on in 2008, batting well below .200 (or .100) for a long time before he quickly rose to become one of the Nats brightest young stars.
Cristian Guzman continues his struggles
With two errors in the game on Saturday, Cristian Guzman rose his total to six on the short spring. That makes 6 errors in 17 games, which to put in perspective, is 11 less than he had all of last year. To make that number even more of an eye sore, one must remember that in spring training starters only play a few innings a game and official scorers are about as generous as little-league moms filling out a score card.
At the plate Guzman is only batting .211/.224/.298. His supposed improved contact is gone, as his batting average is down 105 points from the end of last season. His supposed improved plate patience is seeming to look like an apparitions now as well, as he has only walked one time in 58 plate appearances. The massive improvement last season in both these numbers were attributed to an offseason laser eye surgery that supposedly allowed him to play at the level that made him an all-star once in Minnesota. However his inability to field or hit a baseball suggests something much more upsetting to the Nationals, and that is that Guzman may yet again be having a contract hangover.
In 2005 after signing a free agent deal that brought the young shortstop to Washington, Guzman’s approval rating was lower in D.C than George Bush’s. He hit only .214/.260/.314, and was absolutely miserable. Nats fans must now hope that the slow spring is just a result of Guzman being in a slump and not a sign of a 31 year old fat and happy with a new contract.
Anderson Hernandez to miss opening day
The Nats presumptive second baseman of change will start the season on the disabled list after coming out of the game with a sore hamstring last week.
Hernandez had impressed the Nationals after a short stint in 2008 at the end of the season where he batted an imposing .333/.407/.383. While Hernandez carries no base stealing threat, the Nats hoped he could reproduce, at least to a degree, the plate patience and contact ability he showed in the small sample size in September.
Hernandez had been delivering as promised in Florida before going down with the hamstring problem, batting a solid .276/.364/.345.
Hernandez is expected to return the second week in April. Belliard will fill in at second base until he returns.