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03/18/07 9:52 PM ET

Notes: Battle for left field

Church, Snelling competing to be the Opening Day starter

VIERA, Fla. -- For most of the spring, Nationals manager Manny Acta said that Ryan Church was the starting left fielder no matter what Church did during the exhibition season. But it appears that general manager Jim Bowden has other ideas.

Bowden said that Chris Snelling is not only on the 25-man roster, but he is a candidate to be the Opening Day left fielder.

Snelling has been impressive this spring, hitting .286, while leading the team in home runs (three) and RBIs (10). Bowden has been impressed by Snelling's work ethic and bat speed. Snelling came over from the Mariners in the Jose Vidro trade.

"Chris is a good player," Bowden said. "He is the kind of blue-collar player that America loves to see. He is quick to the ball [as a hitter]. He is a good defensive player. He gets good jumps, good angles. His uniform is always dirty by the first inning. He is a throwback player.

"We know he is on the team. The only question is, who is going to start in left field? The way he has been swinging the bat, he is in good competition to be the everyday left fielder."

Church got off to a slow start but appears to be close to getting his swing back. On Saturday, he had three hits and drove in four runs against the Mets. On Sunday, Church went hitless in three at-bats.

But Acta sounded like he and Bowden were not on the same page regarding the left-field situation. When asked if Snelling is competing for a starting spot, Acta said: "He has got to make the team first, and then we'll go from there. You can't rule anything out in life."

Acta also said: "Church is the guy, I think. Snelling is playing well and pushing the issue."

Asked if there is a chance for Church to be the starting center fielder, Acta said the position belongs to Nook Logan because of his defense. Church played center field on Saturday, but Acta said he wanted Church to get some work at the position as a possible backup.

"We said all along that we are going to go with Nook playing center field and that's what we are going to do," Acta said. "I wanted to expose [Church] out there, so we don't throw him in the middle of the fire during the season."

The Big Nasty: John Patterson pitched in his first exhibition game since March 2, and the right-hander gave up three runs in three innings against the Marlins. All three runs were scored in the third inning. Patterson blamed himself for bad pitch selection to Hanley Ramirez, who singled home the first run. Mike Jacobs would later hit a two-run home run.

Patterson was supposed to go another inning, but he was close to his pitch count when the third inning ended.

"I used a lot of pitches and went into some deep counts, but I felt good," Patterson said. "No problems there. I felt I was good out of the windup, but a little shaky from the stretch, which is how I've been lately. So we are still working on that a little bit."

Between starts, Patterson was pitching in the team's accelerated intrasquad games.

Injury report: Acta said that right-hander Jason Simontacchi is going to skip a turn because of tightness in his right groin. The injury is not considered serious.

Did you know: Logan is tied for the team lead in walks this spring with seven.

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Coming up: The Nationals return to Space Coast Stadium to play the Dodgers on Monday at 1:05 p.m. ET. Washington right-hander Shawn Hill will face Dodgers left-hander Randy Wolf.

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