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02/28/08 6:07 PM ET

Notes: Milledge has green light to run

Newly acquired outfielder hopes to burn up basepaths

VIERA, Fla. -- Manager Manny Acta has given center fielder Lastings Milledge the green light to steal bases provided that Milledge has a success rate of at least 74 percent.

If he falls below that 74 percent, Milledge will be limited on what he can do on the bases.

During his big league time with the Mets, Milledge was never given a chance to steal bases because he was usually batting in front of the pitcher. The last time he stole bases on a consistent basis was in 2005. He combined for 29 stolen bases with Class A St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton that season.

On Wednesday night, Milledge got off to a good start as he stole two bases in two attempts against the Marlins.

"Manny has given me a chance to really showcase my speed, because nobody knows what I can really do on the basepaths," Milledge said. "I didn't have the green light in New York."

Milledge is expected to bat second in the order this year.

On the mound: After six years as a starter in professional baseball, left-hander Michael Hinckley is now considered a reliever, and Acta didn't rule out Hinckley being a situational lefty.

In 2004, Hinckley was considered the Nationals' top pitching prospect, but he has had a tough time getting hitters out the last three years. Last year, for example, Hinckley was 9-10 with a 5.83 ERA.

In Thursday's exhibition against Georgetown University, Hinckley entered in the seventh inning and pitched two shutout innings.

"We tried him as a starter before," Acta said. "I'm not saying that he is never going to start again, but he will try something different. He has a very good breaking ball."

Right-hander Jason Bergmann, 26, started the first exhibition of the spring and pitched two shutout innings. Acta acknowledged that Bergmann threw the ball well, but said that the competition was not Major League caliber.

On the other hand, Acta felt that left-hander Josh Smoker had pitched against fair competition because Smoker, 18, is the same age as most of the players on Georgetown's baseball team.

"We were talking in the dugout about how Smoker would be a freshman on their team," Acta said. "That was fair game. He was a little nervous, kind of rattled. He put it together and threw the ball well.

Bergmann and Smoker pitched a combined four shutout innings.

Injury report: Paul Lo Duca (left knee) will start hitting off a batting tee on Friday. It will mark the first time Lo Duca will swing a bat since having surgery last January.

Coming up: Washington returns to Space Coast Stadium to play the Marlins on Friday at 1:05 p.m. ET. Nationals right-hander Tyler Clippard will face Florida's Ricky Nolasco. Nationals pitchers Jason Stanford, Mike Bacsik and Tristan Crawford will pitch in relief.

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