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02/04/07 5:30 PM ET

Mailbag: How will bullpen shake out?

Nationals beat reporter Bill Ladson answers fans' questions

With Spring Training starting next week, baseball fans want to know about the Nationals and their chances of getting better in the National League East.

Here are some answers to your questions.

Who do you think will benefit the most from Manny Acta's managerial style?
-- Sean J., Germantown, Pa.

I think Brian Schneider will benefit the most because Acta said Schneider will have more of a leadership role behind the plate. Schneider will have more of a voice in terms of pitch selection and tutoring the pitching staff. I'm looking forward to seeing this.

If the last two months of the 2006 season were any indication, I also think Schneider will have his best season with the bat. He was spraying the ball all over the place and that's what he needs to do to be successful.

What do you think about the Nationals' bullpen situation?
-- Dave N., Riverside, Calif.

Provided that the Nats don't trade closer Chad Cordero, I think the bullpen will be the team's biggest strength. I like Jon Rauch, Ryan Wagner and Luis Ayala (provided he's healthy) as setup men. I thought Ray King was a great pickup. Add Micah Bowie to the mix, and you have two solid lefties in the bullpen.

Since John Patterson says he is 100 percent ready, will he be the Opening Day starter?
-- James U., Glendale, Calif.

While I never talked to Acta about the Opening Day starter, I think, provided that he's healthy, Patterson will be the guy. He is the team's best starting pitcher.

Do you think the Nationals can play above-.500 baseball in 2007?
-- David V., Brooklyn, N.Y.

Anything is possible. So far, I like the way Acta is thinking and has done his homework on the Nationals. He is not waiting until Spring Training to solve certain situations, such as putting Felipe Lopez at the leadoff position or making Nook Logan the everyday center fielder. There is no guesswork from that standpoint.

However, I have to see how the starting rotation works out. That's the biggest factor. And as we saw last year, it is the No. 1 reason the Nationals finished in fifth place in 2006.

I don't see you bring up Beltran Perez much in your starting pitching discussions. Do you think he is out of the Nats' plans?
-- Patrick B., Mankato, Minn.

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Perez is definitely in the mix as far as being a starter, but it's hard to make a prediction about the rotation after Patterson because none of the candidates have solid track records in the big leagues. We will not know the rest of the rotation until the end of March.

Have the Nationals considered changing the team's name back to the Washington Senators?
-- Brian K., Washington, D.C.

The Texas Rangers own the name Washington Senators. If the Nationals buy the name from the Rangers, then it's a possibility. But I see the Washington franchise being known as the Nationals for years to come.

Here are two comments from the fans

First, I would like to say congratulations to Austin Kearns for getting a new three-year contract, but I don't know if that is all good because Schneider received a long-term deal and look at his numbers in 2006. Look at Cristian Guzman and his numbers. That's why I don't like big contracts. I know Nick Johnson had a great year in '06, but we won't see him until who knows when. That's why I think the Nationals should stick to no more than two-year deals.
-- Jarred T., Fredericksburg, Va.

Tell your reader, Woody S. from Orlando, Fla., that the likelihood of former Expos fans switching to the Toronto Blue Jays is about as likely as Phillies fans switching to the Yankees! Apples and oranges.
-- Steph M., Montreal

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.