02/25/09 12:00 AM EST
Nats' opener is first test for Milledge
Young outfielder must show improvement to hold center field
By Bill Ladson / MLB.com
Washington looks to kick off a winning exhibition season in its spring opener against the Astros today at 1:05 p.m. ET at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, Fla.
Left-hander John Lannan will get the nod against Houston. Lannan will pitch two innings, and Shairon Martis, Gary Glover, Steven Shell, Michael Hinckley and Garrett Mock will also see action on the mound.
Acta announced that he will not take most of his regular position players to Kissimmee. Only catcher Jesus Flores, center fielder Lastings Milledge and right fielder Austin Kearns will make the trip. For the next couple of weeks, players such as outfielder/first baseman Adam Dunn and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman will play only at Space Coast Stadium.
Milledge and Kearns are the ones to watch during today's game. Acta named Milledge the everyday center fielder for the second year in a row. It will be interesting to see if Milledge has improved going back on balls and throwing out runners.
Kearns is fighting for a job for the first time since he became a member of the Nationals in 2006. He is coming off one of his worst seasons. In 86 games in '08, he hit .217 with seven home runs and 32 RBIs. It didn't help that he missed a lot of action because elbow and foot injuries.
The Nationals will face left-hander Mike Hampton, who will throw either two innings or 40 pitches, whichever comes first. Hampton is looking to be healthy for a full season for the first time since 2004, when he was with the Braves.
Hampton and the Astros reunited this offseason after a seven-year hiatus. Hampton played for Houston from 1994-99. His best season with the Astros was in '99, when he went 22-4 with a 2.90 ERA.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.