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Johnson at first, Belliard at second

Late Friday, Manny Acta met with Felipe Lopez and Dmitri Young -- separately -- and told them that each of them would begin the season on the bench. That means Nick Johnson is the Nationals' starting first baseman, Ronnie Belliard the starting second baseman.

Here's Acta's thinking:

"Obviously those were not easy decisions," Acta said, "but as I mentioned before that's a sign of progress here, when you have guys that have been all-stars being on the bench. Basically we feel that Nick Johnson is back to where he was two years ago [from] what we saw in camp. We went with it. We had a very good meeting with Dmitri Young. It wasn't easy. You're telling the guy who was the comeback player of the year ... that he was going to be on the bench, but he understood.

"None of these guys are going to be buried on the bench anyways. It's a long season and they're going to have a chance, too."

Before we get to reactions, that leaves the Nationals' Opening Night lineup looking like this:

Guzman -- 6
Milledge -- 8
Zimmerman -- 5
Johnson -- 3
Kearns -- 9
Lo Duca -- 2
Dukes -- 7
Belliard -- 4
Perez -- 1

Both Young and Lopez took the news professionally, though they were disappointed.

"I feel happy for those guys," Lopez said. "Like I said before, I have nothing against them. I never have. And I just want to win. If he needs me to go in there and pinch hit, I'll just be ready. It's a long season, and you never know what can happen. I know my moment is going to come, and I'm not going to miss it. I'm going to be ready for it."

He was asked if he was disappointed or frustrated: "It's kind of like, they did a great job last year. You can't ignore that, I guess, from a front office/manager's point of view. So, I guess they deserve it, you know?"

Acta said he could see Lopez getting significant time anyway.

"I'm going to keep those three guys up the middle fresh," Acta said. "It's not like there's a big, big, big difference in between the three of them. So he'll have the opportunity to play some short, second, and then between the three of them they'll let me know who should be sitting there for a longer period of time."

Young was asked for his reaction of the decision.

"Naturally, not happy," he said. "But at the same time, I'm happy for Nick to be able to come back from his injury, he worked his tail off to get back to a starting position."

How would you characterize it overall?: "Frustrated, but at the same time, it's not going to ruin my day or anything."

The Nationals now have two capable pinch hitters available in late innings, one with some speed, one with some pop.

"Pinch hitting's hard," Young said. "I have to talk to Lenny Harris about that. That's a new role, and I mean, I've never done it. I've always been a starter, so pinch hits usually getting a day off."

Neither player said they would demand a trade.

The gates are open here. It's chilly, but people are starting to file in. Nationals are hitting now. Tomorrow, however, the Nationals are scheduled to hit second -- between 5:45-7 p.m.

By Barry Svrluga  |  March 29, 2008; 3:42 PM ET
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