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LEADING TEAM IN HITS GETS YOU BENCHED

[May 1st] -- I knew it was going to happen, but I was hoping against hope that it wouldn't. Ronnie Belliard, by far the best free agent signing of the 2007 season in the major leagues (when comparing cost versus production), is one of the Nationals' best and most consistent hitters. Heading into Wednesday's game with the Padres, Belliard is batting .298-1-9 with a team high 31 hits. Once manager Manny Acta moved him to the #2 slot in the lineup, the Nationals began to play .500 ball (or rather, as close to .500 as the team will ever play this season).

That said, I knew that Cristian Guzman would be returning to the team in early May, and although he deserves to sit on the bench, there was no way that was going to happen. The Guzman signing, by the way, cost the Nationals their 3rd round pick in 2005 - the Twins used the pick to choose Brian Duensing, who has a 9-13, 3.21 career record in Minnesota's farm system.

Guzman, who had perhaps the worst season of any regular major leaguer in 2005, and who missed all of last year with a shoulder injury, and who has never been an all-around offensive player, will return to the starting lineup within the next week. From Bill Ladson's article, "But manager Manny Acta pointed out that Guzman has two years left on his contract with the Nationals, and the skipper wants to see if Guzman can be the player that helped the Twins win three consecutive American League Central titles." Acta then went on to say that we needed to "fix" Guzman.

If we can't score with Ronnie Belliard in the lineup, how in the world are we going to score with him on the bench and Cristian Guzman at short? Come the end of the season, Belliard is going to hit somewhere near .275-13-60. Guzman? If he's lucky, he'll come in somewhere near .250 with no power and one of the worst on-base percentages on the team.

I have supported Guzman from day one because, frankly, we had no one better. But now we do. And playing time shouldn't be about money. Maybe Stan Kasten can use just a smidge of the $33 million he saved on payroll this year and eat Guzman's contract, and then sign Belliard to a 3 year, $10 million dollar deal.

"Batting second, playing shortstop, Cristian Guzman...."

Sigh....

Nats Notes:

Jason Simontacchi looked tremendous in his first rehab start for Columbus last week, giving up just one run in five innings. Then he took the mound this afternoon at Cooper Stadium in Columbus: 5.2 innings, nine hits, six runs, a walk and three strikeouts. I am assuming that he will be taking Jerome Williams' place in the rotation when he comes off the disabled list. Will he be better for the Nationals? Simontacchi, 33, has a 20-10, 4.77 major league record with a 39-38, 4.22 minor league minor league record. I don't think we'll see much of a difference, really.


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