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Questions at Right Field, but Willingham Back to Left Tonight

Josh Willingham had played in left field in all of his 3,359 1/3 career innings in the outfield. That changed on Wednesday night.

Willingham, who missed the past week with a viral infection, played in right field in the Washington Nationals' 4-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds in 12 innings. On an evening otherwise dominated by two superb pitching performances - that is, before the 2-hour 10-minute rain delay in the bottom of the ninth inning - Willingham made one play that stood out in his debut. It was an error.

Although that dropped fly ball ultimately did not affect the outcome, the play might have shed some light on a larger issue for the Nationals. With Willingham and Austin Kearns competing for the starting time at right field, Washington remains unsettled at the position. In fact, last night, Willingham was to be moved back to left field and Kearns was set to play in right. Adam Dunn, the new left fielder, was scheduled to play at first base to give Nick Johnson a day off.

"I thought he did well," Manager Manny Acta said of Willingham's performance Wednesday. "He had some good at bats. He read the ball good in the outfield. He dropped one, but it wasn't like he misplayed it. It takes a lot of character and courage for a guy like him to make the decision to take a few days and be out there game time and get it done."

The season, Willingham has started 27 times at left field, but he largely proved his worth with his bat, especially recently. In 33 plate appearances since May 21, Willingham has batted .333 with three home runs.

Before being sidelined with the illness, Willingham platooned with Kearns. Willingham is a left fielder. Kearns is a right fielder. Dunn would alternate between right and left field, depending on which of those two was playing.

But on Tuesday, Acta announced that Dunn would stay at left field, and that Willingham would compete with Kearns for playing time in right. Although Dunn offered to keep switching positions, Acta said, the organization thought it best for him to stay in left field. Acta reiterated yesterday that Dunn would be the Nationals' every day left fielder.

That will change, at least temporarily, during the upcoming interleague series against the Tampa Bay Rays of the American League. Dunn will become the designated hitter, leaving Willingham available to return to left field and Kearns to start in right.

Asked Wednesday about Willingham's transition, Acta said: "It's a ball. You see the ball, you run to it, you catch it. You've just got to get used to the angles, how the ball is coming back to him from right handed hitters in right center field."

Acta said Willingham would be evaluated at the position and for his presence at the plate upon returning. In effort to ready for Wednesday's start, Willingham worked out in right field earlier this week. He was still learning the proper angles to properly play on the ball on the other side of the outfield.

"It's going good," Willingham said Tuesday of his preparation for right field. "I'm just taking balls off the bat. That's the main thing, how you get used to a position, taking balls off the bat."

Later in that conversation, he summed up his situation with what amounted to a verbal shrug: "We'll see how it goes."

Willingham saw his first action at the new position with none out in the third inning, when Cincinnati third baseman Jerry Hairston looped a 3-2 fastball his direction. Running in to make a play, Willingham extended his arm to make the catch but the ball bounced off his glove and sank to the turf. Hairston was safe on the play. Willingham was charged with an error.

Willingham was spared when the next batter, Brandon Phillips, grounded into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning.

"It was just strange, that's the best way I could put it," Willingham said yesterday. "It's a totally different look. It will take some time to get used to if I play out there more because it was weird."

He added: "If I continue to play in right then I'll get used to it. I'm just trying to get used to it as quick as possible."

The fly out that should have been - Willingham's error - was one of his more memorable moments in right field. At the plate, Willingham was 0 for 3 with two walks. He said he felt comfortable in his first plate with a bat since missing time.

But there is no telling how much time it might take before Willingham is comfortable in right field.

"I'll let you know when it's not strange," Willingham said. "It just takes repetition."

By Mark Viera  |  June 11, 2009; 4:08 PM ET
 
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Comments

This thought struck me today when reading Boz' explanation of how many losses are attributable to bad luck (as opposed to bad playing)?

Has anyone dug up the stadium to see if there's a Senators or Grays jersey buried beneath it?

Might be worth a shot, eh?

Posted by: ihatewalks | June 11, 2009 4:22 PM | Report abuse

""I'll let you know when it's not strange," Willingham said. "It just takes repetition."

Okay, so he plays one game in right last night, then goes to left today and for the next two series at Tampa Bay and New York. So presumably the next time he'll play right is a week from tomorrow against the Blue Jays. Where's the repetition in that?

Posted by: nunof1 | June 11, 2009 4:23 PM | Report abuse

nunof makes a very good argument for firing Acta

Posted by: Juni | June 11, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse

But nunof1, there's the cleverness in Manny's strategy. Playing in a position to get used to it - that's just what everyone would suspect he'd do. Can't fool the man.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | June 11, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Actually, there's no way in heck you'd want any of these outfielders playing in the Trop. It will be the curse of the Nats - may you play in an interesting outfield.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | June 11, 2009 4:42 PM | Report abuse

It's not like Dunn's shortcomings as a right fielder were a surprise to anyonem, or that the surplus of outfielders just happened all of a sudden. So why didn't Willingham do his learning of the new position in spring training? Because the brain trust thought Kearns would actually be a good hitter?

Posted by: Section222 | June 11, 2009 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Because the brain trust thought Milledge would be in center; that left Willingham, Kearns, Dukes, and Wily Mo to fight for the last spot. Willingham or Dukes in left... They also didn't know how Johnson would hold up after 2 years off, so Dunn was preparing to do time at 1B too.

Posted by: outsider6 | June 11, 2009 4:55 PM | Report abuse

every time the nats wear those blue abomination jerseys, is "send in the clowns" played before the game instead of the national anthem?

Posted by: surly_w | June 11, 2009 4:59 PM | Report abuse

Don’t know if you are aware or care, but the Nats have made it impossible to buy a single ticket to one of the Nats games vs. the Red Sox. One has to buy tickets to 5 other games to get a seat for that series. They call it a “Grand Slam Pack”. My nephew just bought one $10 ticket to that game using the Red Sox ticket office. Share this if you do care or know anyone who does. I relayed it to the Nats Season Ticket Office. An organization built like this can’t possibly field a winner.

Posted by: GregHerrick | June 11, 2009 5:04 PM | Report abuse

Did I just hear Dibble say, if they can go 66-29, they can still finish .500? He may be drinking...

Posted by: baltova1 | June 11, 2009 5:06 PM | Report abuse

Here's a question I've never heard the answer to: In the big leagues, where does conventional wisdom say you should play your "worst" outfielder? I mean in Little League, the worst guy is always in right field, but I wouldn't think it matters in the bigs.

Posted by: kjhealey | June 11, 2009 5:06 PM | Report abuse

Typically you put him in left. An error in left is a double; an error in right is more likely to be a triple.

Posted by: outsider6 | June 11, 2009 5:09 PM | Report abuse

To be fair, *in spring training* Kearns _was_ hitting.
***************************
So why didn't Willingham do his learning of the new position in spring training? Because the brain trust thought Kearns would actually be a good hitter?

Posted by: Section222 | June 11, 2009 4:43 PM

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | June 11, 2009 5:17 PM | Report abuse

@GregH...Interesting work-around, thanks for the tip and the scoop.

********
Don’t know if you are aware or care, but the Nats have made it impossible to buy a single ticket to one of the Nats games vs. the Red Sox. One has to buy tickets to 5 other games to get a seat for that series. They call it a “Grand Slam Pack”. My nephew just bought one $10 ticket to that game using the Red Sox ticket office. Share this if you do care or know anyone who does. I relayed it to the Nats Season Ticket Office. An organization built like this can’t possibly field a winner.

Posted by: GregHerrick | June 11, 2009 5:04 PM

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | June 11, 2009 5:20 PM | Report abuse

>> I'll ask you this: If you put Adam Jones back in the draft right now, who would go No. 1 -- him or Strasburg? I'd say Adam Jones." Posted by: baltova1

Hmmm. Who said something about Adam Jones earlier? Just wondering.........

Posted by: dovelevine | June 11, 2009 5:21 PM | Report abuse

but why are they on MASN2 instead of HD?

Yeah, yeah, I know...

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | June 11, 2009 5:23 PM | Report abuse

So, where IS Carpenter, anyway?

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | June 11, 2009 5:24 PM | Report abuse

RE: Boston tix: I don't seem to have a problem getting single-game tickets online from the Nats.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | June 11, 2009 5:26 PM | Report abuse

HOME DUGOUT BOX
Section Row/Box Seat Type Price
129L W 12 ADULT-WB $80.00

Price for 1 seat : $80.00

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | June 11, 2009 5:27 PM | Report abuse

I don't mind the jerseys as much, but the red batting helmets don't match. You'd think they could get a matching set.
*************
every time the nats wear those blue abomination jerseys, is "send in the clowns" played before the game instead of the national anthem?

Posted by: surly_w | June 11, 2009 4:59 PM

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | June 11, 2009 5:28 PM | Report abuse

BTW did Strasberg say even one word about the Nats besides he hadn't followed them. I mean did he say even one positive thing about the team that just signed him? Just wondering.

Posted by: dovelevine | June 11, 2009 5:34 PM | Report abuse

In the pregame article on MLB.com for last night's game they quoted Manny as saying the bullpen had been pitching well for at least a month now. We might all debate that (it has certainly been a lot better).

If that's so then why fire Randy? The starters are all young and taking their lumps. No surprise they are going to take time to adjust no matter who the pitching coach is.

Another quality Mannyism.

Posted by: SaveOurTeam | June 11, 2009 5:37 PM | Report abuse

Second and third, 1 out. Can't get a run. *sigh*

Posted by: SaveOurTeam | June 11, 2009 5:38 PM | Report abuse

It feels like it's been a WHILE since I've been able to follow a game. Only 1 hit by the Nats so far - come one guys!!

Posted by: PattyinSJ | June 11, 2009 5:45 PM | Report abuse

"In the pregame article on MLB.com for last night's game they quoted Manny as saying the bullpen had been pitching well for at least a month now."

They flashed this stat on MASN last night. It's like No. 5 in the National League this last month.

Posted by: Section506 | June 11, 2009 5:45 PM | Report abuse

That would be come ON guys.

Posted by: PattyinSJ | June 11, 2009 5:46 PM | Report abuse

>>So, where IS Carpenter, anyway?Posted by: Sec3mysofa

Blood was seeping out of his eyes and ears from having to watch this monstrosity night after night.
Visiting the folks.

Posted by: dovelevine | June 11, 2009 5:46 PM | Report abuse

From the Yankees:

Rightfielder Jorge Padilla, who played with the Red Barons in 2004 and '05, is hitting .375 through 34 games with the Chiefs. He was the MVP of the Puerto Rican Winter League this offseason.

He is hitting .364 for Syracuse right now.

He has been a consistent hitter in the minors out of high school, suffered a couple of season shortening or ending injuries. He has good speed.

What have they got to lose.

Posted by: periculum | June 11, 2009 5:46 PM | Report abuse

New posts, twice as nice.

Posted by: leetee1955 | June 11, 2009 5:49 PM | Report abuse

we should cut kearns, him playing does nothing for us, we are better defensively with willie in cf and eli in right and we all know the bats don't improve with mighty casey... or uhh austin up there, the fact that willingham has to compete with kearns at this point is pathetic, he hasn't had an rbi in like a month and plays 3/4 of the games, truly pitiful managing in regards to the kearns situation, I wish I could suck at my job, bank 8 mil and somehow fool my boss into believing I'm a valuable member of the workforce, a man can have a dream. Can we fire manny already? is there anything positive that anyone can say about the job he has done, he's the damn tin man behind sunglasses, you should care about being embarrassed, manny, the patient, loves his 115 losses

Posted by: bford1kb | June 12, 2009 12:03 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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