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Cristian Guzman continues position shuffle, starts at shortstop

Cristian Guzman is back in a familiar position -- playing shortstop, batting second -- at least for a day. The player who has been the Washington Nationals' shortstop for much of the franchise's existence lost his starting job to Ian Desmond during spring training, but Manager Jim Riggleman still intends to play Guzman on a consistent basis. Playing time will come at shortstop, second base, right field and as a pinch hitter, although he's no longer the everyday starter at the same spot.

Guzman spelled Desmond on Thursday against the Philadelphia Phillies while Desmond received a day off, but it is Desmond who will receive the majority of playing time at shortstop.

"They told me you have to be ready to play different positions," Guzman said. "It's not just all days at shortstop. I know I'm not going to play every day there, so it's got to be different positions."

Riggleman wants Guzman to play shortstop this season, but he needs to find days such as Thursday for Guzman to play his natural position. Desmond is expected to start at least the next four games, Riggleman said. The manager added that Guzman would receive time at second base and right field in the upcoming three-game series against the New York Mets.

Guzman said the toughest part of the new arrangement has been not knowing what position he'll play on a daily basis. Riggleman praised Guzman for the way he's handled playing less shortstop and learning new positions. Riggleman did not think Guzman would be pleased with the change but "thought he would handle it."

"He's been great," Riggleman said. "I've really been impressed with his work. He's taking groundballs at second and short. He's taking fly balls in right field. During the game, he's very much in tune with John McLaren, the bench coach, to stay ready for all the situations that are coming up where he might hit. He's in the cage getting ready to hit. He's stretching. I couldn't ask for anything more as far as the way he's reacting to it."

Guzman has never played right field in his life and said it is not an easy position to learn, and that the toughest part has been fielding a line drive over his head. Nationals outfielder/infielder Willie Harris has played both since the minor leagues, so it was hard for him to imagine the process Guzman currently endures.

"It's not easy, I'm sure," Harris said. "But he's a great athlete. He's capable of doing it. It's one of the things that once he becomes comfortable, we know he can hit. That's another good thing about him. When you're hitting good, you're feeling good about yourself. I don't think it will be a tough transition for him at all."

Harris similarly praised Guzman, an 11-year veteran and one-time All-Star. In fact, the 2008 All-Star Game, when Guzman played third base, was his only major league experience at a position other than shortstop.

"I know, from a personal standpoint, it somewhat has to be a tough pill to swallow, tough to swallow all that pride," Harris said. "But [Guzman] is a professional. ...He's taking everything, and he's doing what he's been asked to do. As far as how he may feel about it, you never can tell because he's still working hard and he's still doing everything that's been asked of him. It's a long season. It's a long year. You never know where things are going to end up for him. But wherever they do, I know one thing -- he'll be on top. Because he's a pro."

On days when Guzman is in the starting lineup, it is likely he will bat second -- regardless of what position he is playing. Most of Guzman's career at bats have come when he bats No. 2, where has a .271 average in 630 games.

That requires the Nationals to shake up their batting order. Harris batted second in the season opener, with Desmond in the spot on Wednesday. Harris batted sixth on Thursday.

"That's really where [Guzman] likes to hit," Riggleman said. "Last year, there were some times before Nyjer Morgan was her where he led off. There were times he batted second. There were times he was really swinging the ball well and he was down in the sixth slot to give us some RBIs from down there, but it just didn't work for him. He just didn't have the same at bats. So, we got him back up in the two spot. When he plays, that's primarily where he'll be. And we plan on him playing a lot."

By Zach Berman  |  April 8, 2010; 4:42 PM ET
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Yeah, Willie!

Posted by: PattyinSJ | April 8, 2010 5:42 PM | Report abuse

Good news story on Guz! Hope he keeps up his hot hitting no matter where he is playing in the field.

Posted by: markfd | April 9, 2010 8:58 AM | Report abuse

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