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New Swings, New Lineups, Etc.

Austin Kearns never went back to the video and watched. For the Washington Nationals' right fielder, the home run he clobbered off Florida fireballer Leo Nunez last night was just an aw-shucks moment of good fortune. Kearns, today, called the pitch "a mistake, obviously. A strike in the middle of the plate." Asked about his comfort at the plate, Kearns said, "at times I've felt good; it's just trying to get that feel and keep that feel."

But those who've watched Kearns for the last few weeks -- and especially during the first series of this season -- see indications of drastically improved power, the result of a shorter swing and a wider stance. The fastball Kearns drove to toward the upper deck in the eighth inning last night came on a 1-2 pitch, a 96 mph screamer that tailed a bit high and a few inches in. Mistake or not, it's the exact sort of pitch Kearns couldn't hit one year ago.

"A very good fastball," Manager Manny Acta said. "That's something we haven't seen here since his arrival. Most of his home runs in the last couple years were on off-speed stuff, and yesterday he was able to turn around on a mid-90s fastball and hit it a long way. That tells us that he's probably going to be back to his old self."

Though it's dangerous to draw conclusions from the first two games, Kearns's new pop traces back a good month. He tied for the team lead in spring training with four home runs. Combining regular season and spring statistics, Kearns has hit five homers in his last 51 at bats. Last year, while battling several injuries, he homered seven times in 313 at bats.

"He's definitely shown that the power is there, and his confidence is extremely high," hitting coach Rick Eckstein said.


*

For today's game, Acta has reshuffled his lineup, bumping Cristian Guzman to the leadoff spot, sending Lastings Milledge to the bench, and inserting Elijah Dukes in center field. He's also resting Nick Johnson and Jesus Flores.

"We could have played at midnight today and those guys were going to play anyways," Acta said. "The only one who was probably going to rest because of the day game after the night game was Flores, because he's a catcher."

Though Milledge has struggled in the first games of the season, especially defensively, Dukes is battling his own rough start. He struck out 22 times in 52 at bats this spring, and has been working with Eckstein to break a few bad habits: Right now, he's trying to yank everything toward left field, and is sometimes pulling his head.

"That's what I mean by trying to do a little too much," Eckstein said. "He's excited when he gets out there to play, and when he gets out there it's a little bit of adrenaline pumping. And his heart is in the right place, but sometimes when you get a little over-anxious or over-aggressive you end up doing things you normally wouldn't do. You chase some pitches."

*

Here's Acta, on early criticism of Milledge: "I knew [to expect that] that coming in. I knew that any ball that lands 15 to 25 feet from Milledge, one of you would ask a question about him the whole season. So you have to move on. Every one of us has our critics, but I was expecting that any ball that lands 25 feet from him or from Dunn, one of you guys is going to ask about defense. And they are who they are. Milledge is not Torii Hunter, but he's Lastings Milledge; we like him, and he is our centerfielder...

"It's only been two games. I don't make assessments after two games. I'm not going to crucify anybody, I'm not going to judge any of my two pitchers that have been out there. It's only been two games. Let's wait a little longer before we make any assumptions."


*

As could become a habit on games proceeding off days -- and indeed, the Nationals won't play tomorrow -- Johnson is resting, as Adam Dunn takes his place at first.

"I mean, this is a guy who hasn't played 100 games since three years ago, so we've got to get his body fresh throughout the season," Acta said.

*

You don't see many noon games on a 162-game schedule. Even rarer is a team that takes batting practice before such an early game. But today, the Nats were out on the field beginning at 10:25, first stretching, then taking their swings. This afternoon they face Florida's Chris Volstad, who went 6-4 with a 2.88 ERA in 14 starts last year.

By Chico Harlan  |  April 8, 2009; 11:48 AM ET
 
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Comments

Glad to see the lineup shake-up.
Milledge belongs on the bench...until they can trade him or send him down.

Is Willingham going to be in LF? I hope so.

Posted by: usmc53 | April 8, 2009 12:01 PM | Report abuse

I like the lineup changes, not as a reaction to the first two games, but simply as a means to getting everyone appropriate rest (in the case of Johnson and Flores) and ABs (in the case of Dukes and Willingham). Kearns stays in since he's been the hot hand, Milledge sits because he has not. This is the kind of rotation we should see for a month or three, at least until something clicks or we make a deal.

Posted by: BobLHead | April 8, 2009 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Does anyone have any idea why Acta is so protective of Milledge? He's right -- he's Lastings Milledge. And that's the problem. He's going to end up costing him his job -- there is no way that guy should be playing with Willingham and/or Dukes on the bench. This is very frustrating to watch Milledge botch ball after ball and the manager think its okay.

Posted by: raymitten | April 8, 2009 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Finally, we MAY get to see Willingham play!

Posted by: Pete433 | April 8, 2009 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Maybe they should have had fielding practice instead of batting practice.
What's wrong with these guys? Extended spring training doesn't seem to be enough.

Posted by: ajtrue78 | April 8, 2009 12:08 PM | Report abuse

"Mistake or not, it's the exact sort of pitch Kearns couldn't hit one year ago."

One could make the argument that he couldn't hit ANY pitch a year ago.

Posted by: vash462 | April 8, 2009 12:09 PM | Report abuse

My computer is being dumb, can someone post a link directly to gameday?

Posted by: Section506 | April 8, 2009 12:09 PM | Report abuse

Like I said before, can Lastings be the Firstings to be traded?

Posted by: cadeck | April 8, 2009 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Here's a thought on Dukes: why not bat him leadoff? I know he's had some trouble this spring with strikeouts, but you know he's going to get past those and he's always good for taking a walk. Depending on how he does in CF, you could start him out there and have him take over all of Milledge's duties until he can iron out his swing and how to play the position at the very least.

Posted by: vash462 | April 8, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

Ok whoever can watch/listen to the game give us lots of updates!

Posted by: skippy1999 | April 8, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

This doesn't get blocked by most servers

http://stats.washingtonpost.com/mlb/gameview.asp?gamecode=290408128&ref=60

Posted by: Section506 | April 8, 2009 12:24 PM | Report abuse

Don't shread your tickets, go to the game with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the entire section. Bring solo cups and encourage everyone to use the water fountains. That'll show'em!

I do get pissed with all the "Phillies" chants and "Let's go Mets/Cubs." It seems an inevitable and unpleasant part of life (for now). What I wish is that the Nats fans would develop some sort of other chant, different from the resounding "booooo" and competing "Let's go Nats."

Posted by: dclifer | April 8, 2009 12:25 PM | Report abuse

It's been a full season, an extended Spring Training, and 2 games Manny. Millege is inept in CF. Move him to RF, put Dukes in CF full time and then tell Kearns why it's fair that his good performance in ST lands him on the bench behind Millege, even though it was enough to put him ahead of a better all-around player in Dukes.

Posted by: cheeseburger53 | April 8, 2009 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Nats are up in the first 2-0 - big hit by Kearns.

Posted by: lowcountry | April 8, 2009 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Anyone watching? What happened on the Zim hit? Said throwing error but how does that happen to an outfielder?

Posted by: hoo93 | April 8, 2009 12:28 PM | Report abuse

hoo93: "Anyone watching? What happened on the Zim hit? Said throwing error but how does that happen to an outfielder?"

Not watching the game, but that happens when the OF error leads the runner to take a base he wouldn't have otherwise.

Posted by: Handsome_John_Pruitt | April 8, 2009 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Zim flew out. The CF tried to throw back to first to get Dukes, but threw wide. Dukes went to third and Guzman scored.

Posted by: vash462 | April 8, 2009 12:33 PM | Report abuse

I'm on the radio but Zimm flied out and the outfielder tried to double Dukes off first - only the 1B was absent - tha ball went into the dug-out.

Posted by: lowcountry | April 8, 2009 12:34 PM | Report abuse

Weren't the statues revealed today? Why can't I find anything on any TV channel or even online about it?

Posted by: CALSGR8 | April 8, 2009 12:34 PM | Report abuse

Lineout, then threw to first base as an instinct, except the first baseman was not on first base.

Posted by: swang30 | April 8, 2009 12:34 PM | Report abuse

I must be out of my mind. 12-6, 8-3, and I just forked over $14.95 to MLB so that I can listen to this stuff at work.

hoo93: from what I heard (and remember), the center fielder threw to first to try to pick off the runner (Dukes?), but no one was covering.

Posted by: joebleux | April 8, 2009 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Nice. You won't hear this too many times: "Bonifacio and Ramirez out on a double play"

Posted by: Section506 | April 8, 2009 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Dang. Now I know how Teddy feels...last in a field of many...

Posted by: joebleux | April 8, 2009 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Who had Cabrera plunking the home plate ump in the pool?

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 8, 2009 12:37 PM | Report abuse

woot! we got out of the first inning! Scored 2 runs! and we didn't give up any!

Posted by: swang30 | April 8, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

How is the ump going to call balls and strikes when he is standing on first base?

+1/2St.

Posted by: kevincostello | April 8, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

"I must be out of my mind. 12-6, 8-3, and I just forked over $14.95 to MLB so that I can listen to this stuff at work."

Ha ha! I only paid $9.95!

Oh wait. I forgot the 300 bucks for the iPhone and the $80 a month AT&T contract. Never mind.

Posted by: RickDotSalt | April 8, 2009 12:41 PM | Report abuse

"tell Kearns why it's fair that his good performance in ST lands him on the bench behind Millege"

That wouldn't be fair, which is probably why it won't happen.

Posted by: RickDotSalt | April 8, 2009 12:44 PM | Report abuse

chin!!!!

Posted by: nova_g_man | April 8, 2009 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Thx for the clarification. Following a game tracker that had Zimmerman safe and even on second. Pretty confusing.

Posted by: hoo93 | April 8, 2009 12:46 PM | Report abuse

What did Uggla do to Cabrera? looked like he was head hunting for a little bit...

Posted by: swang30 | April 8, 2009 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Here we go ...

Posted by: BobLHead | April 8, 2009 12:52 PM | Report abuse

So much for what I said in the last post.

Also, for what it's worth, Charlie just called Dukes "as smooth as glass in center field."

-----

"We could have played at midnight today and those guys were going to play anyways," Acta said. "The only one who was probably going to rest because of the day game after the night game was Flores, because he's a catcher."

Posted by: JohninMpls | April 8, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Zimm and Dukes clean up the mess... Nice!

Posted by: OldDude | April 8, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

"Elijah Dukes smooth as glass, making that play look easy..." -- from the radio call on that deep fly ball. Think we'll ever hear that about Milledge?

Posted by: jcville | April 8, 2009 12:55 PM | Report abuse

Fish on the board. Nats 2, Florida 1.

Posted by: JohninMpls | April 8, 2009 1:12 PM | Report abuse

So this was the quote from Frank after the 2005 season:

"We (the 2005 Washington Nationals) are not going to hang our heads about it, but we know out record should have been much better and we'll try to do better next year. We were always trying to put someone out there that was hurt. When you do that, it just gets to you after a while. After they came back from their injuries, they were working their way back into the lineup and that caught up with us. There's nothing we can do about it. The harder we tried to right the ship, the worse it got." - Washington Nationals Manager Frank Robinson on MLB.com (Bill Ladson, 10/02/2005)

Posted by: BobLHead | April 8, 2009 1:13 PM | Report abuse

And then after the 2006 season Frank said this:

"There are a lot of reasons this team didn't perform or didn't have the chance to perform the way we expected it to. You have to go back to the injuries, especially to the pitching staff and even some position players. Like the previous four years, we were always depending on our frontline players to carry the big load. If we had any serious injuries to those people for any length of time, we would be in trouble. This year, it was the worst year as far as that is concerned." - Washington Nationals Manager Frank Robinson on MLB.com (Bill Ladson, 10/02/2006)

Posted by: BobLHead | April 8, 2009 1:14 PM | Report abuse

You know, Emilio is really starting to get on my nerves...

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 8, 2009 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Then 2007, which was widely anticipated to be a disaster, particularly in the pitching department, proved to be a surprise, resulting in this:

"The 2007 (Washington Nationals) season marked a new era. Gone was Frank Robinson as manager. In came the young and vibrant Manny Acta, who set the tone right away by bringing a positive attitude to the table." - Sportswriter Bill Ladson on MLB.com (10/01/2007)

Posted by: BobLHead | April 8, 2009 1:18 PM | Report abuse

You know, Emilio is really starting to get on my nerves...
------------
At lease we won't have to see him again... until next Friday (hopefully he'll be back to his normal strikeout routine by then)...

Posted by: OldDude | April 8, 2009 1:20 PM | Report abuse

What Stan Kasten did yesterday brings back some bad feelings from when I was a young man and found out that the girl I was dating was flirting with another guy behind my back.

Posted by: DoctorJoe | April 8, 2009 1:20 PM | Report abuse

"At lease we won't..." I'm obviously renting my brain...or my fingers.

"least"

Posted by: OldDude | April 8, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Then in 2008, we were decimated by injuries again, resulting in our "starters" starting less than half of the games (average, 79.5 games):

C Jesus Flores (82)
1B Aaron Boone (54)
2B Felipe Lopez (78)
3B Ryan Zimmerman (104)
SS Cristian Guzman (136)
LF Willie Harris (86)
CF Lastings Milledge (134)
RF Austin Kearns (85)

Posted by: BobLHead | April 8, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Something is wrong with my gameday, it shows Cabrera still pitching in the fourth inning. Surely Tavarez must be in by now.

Posted by: BobLHead | April 8, 2009 1:27 PM | Report abuse

chin!

Posted by: nova_g_man | April 8, 2009 1:27 PM | Report abuse

What Stan Kasten did yesterday brings back some bad feelings from when I was a young man and found out that the girl I was dating was flirting with another guy behind my back.

Posted by: DoctorJoe | April 8, 2009 1:20 PM

Maybe you weren't paying enough attention to her, like so-called "real baseball fans in DC" haven't been paying attention to the Nats for five years now. Sure, your girlfriend wasn't all that great looking, but she was YOUR girlfriend. And she did get that spiffy new dress about three years into the relationship. But still, you ran her down for not dropping 20 lbs. Well, those 20 lbs didn't look so bad to the other guy, and he started showing up on her doorstep every night. Can you really blame her for letting him in?

Posted by: RickDotSalt | April 8, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Many of us did not need Charlie and Dave to tell us Dukes would be "smooth" in CF. Again....if you watch the games carefully the fact that Milledge never had a chance to become a CF was clear from day one. It now has been over 500 ABs in CF.....Like Grissom said he is not a natural and like I said early last year you can not teach instincts.

Posted by: JayBeee | April 8, 2009 1:30 PM | Report abuse

I like that Dukes is drawing walks. Whether it's a hit or a walk, he's getting on base, and that's what matters. Take notes, Lastings.

Posted by: usmc53 | April 8, 2009 1:36 PM | Report abuse

What's +1/2St?

It's nice that it's actually a game and not a blowout.

Posted by: cmecyclist | April 8, 2009 1:38 PM | Report abuse

wow. Dukes has more walks than hits. who woulda thunk?

Posted by: swang30 | April 8, 2009 1:40 PM | Report abuse

That's Positively Half Street, as abbreviated by Hendo long ago.

Posted by: BobLHead | April 8, 2009 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Damn, Baker's 2nd RBI to tie the game 2-2

Posted by: HotNats | April 8, 2009 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Well, there go the wheels.

Posted by: HotNats | April 8, 2009 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Which begs the question, what is Positively Half Street mean and stand for?

Posted by: cmecyclist | April 8, 2009 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Vintage D-Cab.

Posted by: Zornado | April 8, 2009 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Someone Wake Acta up please......We made some progress today with our Starter......now get him out and try to win a game!

Posted by: JayBeee | April 8, 2009 1:49 PM | Report abuse

We need some offense! 2 hits through 5 innings is pathetic!

Posted by: usmc53 | April 8, 2009 1:50 PM | Report abuse

Allrighty then Z, good wood

Posted by: HotNats | April 8, 2009 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Good ol' Cabrera. He was one out away from getting out of the 5th unscathed and instead loaded the bases, gave up a 3-run double, and blew the lead. You can't see me right now, but I'm giving him a standing ovation for living up to expectations.

Posted by: vash462 | April 8, 2009 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Harris?

Posted by: swang30 | April 8, 2009 1:58 PM | Report abuse

someone wake up acta agian...this is the game.....pinch hit for Harris.....NOW

Posted by: JayBeee | April 8, 2009 1:58 PM | Report abuse

no, wait, Belly. Bases loaded, 1 out

Posted by: swang30 | April 8, 2009 1:59 PM | Report abuse

CME Cyclist, Positively 4th Street is a Bob Dylan song - amended to 1/2 street in honor of Nats Park. As I recall, +1/2Street took the moniker about one month before last season's opener.

Posted by: Traveler8 | April 8, 2009 2:01 PM | Report abuse

Bard up. 2 outs. C'mon, c'mon, c'mon!!!

Posted by: HotNats | April 8, 2009 2:04 PM | Report abuse

We're not going to get better opportunities than that. Bases loaded, one out. Brutal to watch.

Posted by: usmc53 | April 8, 2009 2:07 PM | Report abuse

I'm surprised Cabrera is still pitching.

Posted by: usmc53 | April 8, 2009 2:09 PM | Report abuse

Acta went back to sleep.......better than when he is awake....Johnson is sitting on the bench.....use him when the game is on the line.....You still have options for 1st base by moving Willingham in if that was Acta's twisted Logic.....He is really just about the worst in game out of game...anytime really manager in baseball

Posted by: JayBeee | April 8, 2009 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Me as well usmc, but wow, 1-2-3 inning — works for me... Now we just gotta get something going against (one of the best names in baseball) Kiko Calero, provided he's still in the game.

Posted by: HotNats | April 8, 2009 2:13 PM | Report abuse

Great... Milledge in to PH.
Looking at the gameday stats, had to chuckle:
Calero's out pitch? Four-seam.
The pitch Milledge hates to face? Four-seam.

Wow (shocker), he struck out!

Posted by: HotNats | April 8, 2009 2:16 PM | Report abuse

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