03/31/08 8:09 PM ET
Making a lasting impression
Outfielder already contributing with his bat for Nationals
By Andy Jasner / Special to MLB.com
Washington fans can see why general manager Jim Bowden was so intent on securing the deal.
The 22-year-old center fielder, who was sent from the Mets to the Nationals for catcher Brian Schneider and outfielder Ryan Church on Nov. 30, 2007, played a large role in Washington's 11-6 victory over the Phillies before a stunned sellout crowd of 44,553 on Monday at Citizens Bank Park.
Milledge was 2-for-4, including a two-run shot off Ryan Madson in the sixth inning, while adding three runs scored as the Nationals improved to 2-0 for the first time since 2003.
"This team can play," Milledge said.
So can Milledge, who had been pursued by Bowden as early as last July.
When Milledge started Sunday night against the Braves, he became the franchise's sixth different Opening Day center fielder in the last six years. After his performance on Monday, it looks as if he'll be around for quite some time.
"This kid is doing a lot of things for us," said Nationals manager Manny Acta, who was the Mets' third-base coach when Milledge made his Major League debut in May 2006. "He's going to be doing it for a lot of years to come."
One of the Mets' top prospects, Milledge hit .272 with seven homers and 29 RBIs in 184 at-bats last season. In 115 career games before this season, he had a .257 average with 11 home runs and 57 RBIs.
In the home opener for the Phillies, the visiting fans got a glimpse of the type of talent Milledge possesses.
"He'll take some pressure off the pitching staff," said Nationals starter Matt Chico. "He's got speed, power and athletic ability. He's a great addition to the team. He makes the top of the lineup that much stronger and gives the pitchers even more confidence that we're going to score runs and be able to come back on days when we're behind."
Milledge was going to be behind Carlos Beltran as long as he was in New York. Even though Milledge had to deal with the initial shock of being traded, the move has been nothing but positive.
"The very first day, these guys made me feel welcome," Milledge said. "It made me feel good that they respected me enough as a player and a person to do that. It's a great group of guys, a mixture of rookies and veterans, who have shown me nothing but love since I got here. I'm happy."
Milledge had a bit of a tumultuous stint in New York.
In '06, he received his share of criticism for giving a number of fans high-fives after smacking his first Major League home run. He was also labeled as an arrogant player who wound up in more turmoil after using profane language in a rap song he made.
New city, new beginning.
"He's been great," first baseman Nick Johnson said. "He's huge at the top of our lineup. He's going to help us win a lot of games. He's been a great teammate from the time he got here."
Milledge also is going to learn by playing on a more regular basis. For instance, he singled to lead off the ninth inning and was nearly tagged out at home after Johnson's double to right-center field. On-deck batter Austin Kearns motioned for Milledge to slide, but he remained upright and just barely eluded Carlos Ruiz's tag.
"He's going to keep learning," Acta said.
He's going to keep playing, which is especially enticing for a player who didn't see the field that much the last couple of years.
"Even [Sunday] night, when I was 0-for-4, I felt like I went 4-for-4 because we won the game [over the Braves]," Milledge said. "As long as we win, I'm happy and I felt like I went 4-for-4. If we keep winning, it's going to be a big confidence boost for our team. I'm happy to be a part of it."
Andy Jasner is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.