Position battles near resolution for Nats
Johnson, Young in race for first base; Lopez making his case
VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals manager Manny Acta said he will announce his decisions on who will start the regular season at first base and at the middle infield spots on Saturday.
At first base, Nick Johnson is competing against Dmitri Young, while Felipe Lopez is trying to bump either shortstop Cristian Guzman or second baseman Ronnie Belliard from their spots.
Entering the last exhibition game against the Orioles on Saturday, Johnson is outplaying Young by a wide margin, except for hitting.
On Thursday against Baltimore, for example, Young, who has had some back problems this spring, started at first and made a mental error in the first inning. With Chris Roberson at second base, Tike Redman hit a routine groundball to Young. Instead of going for the sure out at first, Young threw to third baseman Ryan Zimmerman to get the fast Roberson, who was safe by a mile. Young said it was a play the Nationals have been working on this spring.
Asked how he was doing this spring, Young said, "It went perfect. I didn't make every single trip and didn't get 1,000 at-bats. I'm 34 and I've been doing this for a long time. It doesn't take six weeks for the people to get loose."
A couple of weeks after saying that he would not accept a backup role, Lopez continue to soften his stance. In fact, he said is going to be ready for anything Acta tells him to do and that he respects his manager.
"It's not like I'm going to be mad if I'm going to be on the bench," Lopez said. "I want to play. I think he should want somebody that would want to play. Whenever I'm out there, I'm going to play hard and be ready.
"Manny is such a likable guy. He asks for very little, which is hustle, 100 percent. If you do that, he is going to love you. He is such a great guy. Whoever doesn't like him, you are a bad person. I have nothing but good things to say about him."
Lopez is hitting .230 with two home runs, while Guzman and Belliard are hitting .269 and .346, respectively.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.