Notes: Church, Young adjusting
Early defensive miscues prove costly to Nationals
WASHINGTON -- During the offseason and Spring Training, manager Manny Acta vowed the Nationals would play solid defense in 2007. But it was pointed out to him Wednesday morning that Ryan Church and Dmitri Young may be liabilities in center field and first base, respectively.
Church has misjudged fly balls in center, while Young doesn't have much range at first base. Acta downplayed the weaknesses of Church and Young with the glove.
"It's obvious that Nook Logan is a better center fielder than a lot of guys in the big-league level," Acta said. "Dmitri is here to play first base. We all knew during the beginning of Spring Training that we didn't put him over there because he was going to compete for the Gold Glove. It's his bat that we need in the lineup."
Church is playing center field because Logan is on the disabled list with a left foot injury; the Nationals have no other viable alternative to play the position. Young is the everyday first baseman because Nick Johnson has a broken leg. Washington knew going into the season it was sacrificing defense for Young's bat and leadership, two areas that have helped the Nationals.
Church is a far superior defensive player in left and right field, where he doesn't have problem with fly balls. Center field, on the other hand, seems another story.
In the ninth inning of Tuesday's game against the Marlins, Mike Jacobs hit a line drive right at Church, but Church misjudged the ball and it went over his head for a two-run double. Acta protected Church by saying no one would have caught the ball. But Church, a person who never gives excuses when things go wrong, acknowledged that he didn't play the ball the right way.
"It's just the reads. The ball was smoked. All you can do is hang with it -- keep your chin up, keep working and take fly balls," Church said. "The ball looks like it's right at you, but it just took off. There was nothing I could do.
"The corners are easy. At RFK, it's huge. There is nothing you can do about it. The gaps are huge and you try to take everything that is deep and then you see balls that fall in front of you."
Young booted a ground ball that allowed two runs to score in the first inning Tuesday, and that prompted the question whether Young will be replaced during the late innings. Acta said no, pointing out Young had played good defense prior to Tuesday's game.
"I have to see more games. It's only two games. Just because he booted one ball, I'm not going to base my decision [on that]," Acta said. "He made some good plays during the exhibition games. Nothing was brought up until he booted that ball."
Church and Young both proved their worth offensively Wednesday. Church hit a three-run homer in the sixth, while Young, of course, provided walk-off heroics in the ninth with the game-winning single.
Thanks, but no thanks: Figuring the Nationals needed outfield depth after Logan suffered a foot injury Monday, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels called general manager Jim Bowden to see if Bowden had interest in reacquiring center fielder Marlon Byrd. Bowden told the Rangers, "No thanks." As one member of the Nationals' front office put it, "Byrd is not a high-energy guy."
Byrd played for the Nationals for parts of the 2005 and '06 seasons and had serious problems with the bat. When he was the manager, Frank Robinson said Byrd needed to fix the mechanics of his swing.
Different philosophy: In 2006, the Nationals led the Major Leagues in intentional walks allowed. Don't look for the team to have a high total in that category this season, according to Acta.
"With our situation over the last few years with our pitching staff and our defense, if you're putting more people on base, you're just making it worse," Acta said.
Big bopper: The Nationals have had a tough time containing Marlins third baseman Miguel Cabrera. In the first two games, Cabrera was 5-for-7 (.714) with a home run and five RBIs. He added a solo home run in the third inning Wednesday. Pitching coach Randy St. Claire said bad location from the pitching staff has been the reason for not getting Cabrera out. Cabrera has been hitting fastballs and breaking balls.
"The pitch selection has been fine. The location hasn't been where we wanted it," St. Claire said. "Cabrera is hitting those mistakes. We are leaving them up in the zone. You can get away with one bad mistake, but if you make it two or three times to him, you really are going to be in trouble."
Guzman discusses injury: Shortstop Cristian Guzman said Wednesday that he hurt his left hamstring Monday afternoon while breaking up a double play in the third inning against the Marlins. Guzman remained in the game and aggravated the injury coming out of batter's box in the fifth inning.
The Nationals put him on the disabled list Tuesday.
This is Guzman's second injury in as many years. He missed all of last season because of a right shoulder injury.
"As you can see, I didn't play [Tuesday], [Wednesday] and [won't] maybe for two weeks. I'm not too happy," Guzman said. "I'm going to exercise to keep the leg stronger.
Ice man: Acta is impressed by the fact that left fielder Kory Casto is unfazed by being the big leagues. In the ninth inning, Casto drove in the game-tying run with a bad-hop base hit off Jorge Julio. It's was Casto's first Major League RBI.
"He has quality at-bats, overall," Acta said. "I don't think he's impressed. I don't think he knows where he is. That's the way he is."
Casto said he comfortable about being in the big leagues because he has played baseball his whole life.
"If you are in awe, then you kind of get caught on your heels a little bit," he said. "So I just try to be aggressive, getting good pitches to hit and just playing the game.
Nats on the tube: Baseball fans on the eastern shore of Delaware and Maryland will be able to watch Nationals games all season long, now that cable provider Mediacom Communications Corporation has agreed to carry the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network to its coastal customers, effective immediately.
Coming up: The Nationals return to RFK to start a four-game series against the Diamondbacks starting Thursday night at 7:05 p.m. Washington right-hander Jason Bergmann will take on Arizona right-hander Edgar Gonzalez in the opener.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.