Notes: Guzman, Lopez get early start
New double-play duo reports to camp ahead of schedule
VIERA, Fla. -- Shortstop Cristian Guzman and second baseman Felipe Lopez reported to Spring Training on Sunday, and they are ready to become the team's new double-play combination.This offseason, Lopez agreed to make the switch from shortstop to second to make room for Guzman, who missed all of the 2006 season because of a torn right labrum. Manager Manny Acta believes it will not take long for the pair to get in sync. "They are going to be in the same group," Acta said. "We are not going to separate them. We went over this with our coaching staff. We are going to take them out for extra work. Communication is going to be a big part. You guys know that they communicate in two languages, so communication will not be a factor." The Nationals are hoping that Guzman can go back to being the productive player who helped the Twins win three consecutive division titles. Since signing a four-year, $16.8 million contract in 2004, Guzman has been a disappointment. He hit .219 with four home runs and 31 RBIs in 2005 and was shelved in '06. Guzman acknowledged the bad shoulder was the reason for his down season in '05. Acta believes that Guzman will not repeat his performance of two years ago. The skipper has Guzman penciled in behind Lopez as the No. 2 hitter. "We are going to give him the confidence that he needs to move forward," Acta said. "I don't think Guzie can be as bad as he was in 2005, not even if he tried to. I'm looking for him to be a big help to us, and we are going to need him -- big time." Acta said that he worked out Guzman in the Dominican Republic on two consecutive days in January and the shortstop looked great, but Guzman said his shoulder still feels tired sometimes. He took batting practice in the cage and took ground balls during the Sunday workout and didn't have any problems, despite the cold weather. Guzman will have an MRI exam on the shoulder at the request of the Nationals sometime this week. "I can do everything, but it's a little sore because I workout a lot in the Dominican," Guzman said. "In two more weeks, I'll be ready." As for Lopez, 26, the decision to switch to second base was made last December after discussions with general manager Jim Bowden and Acta. Bowden explained to Lopez that Guzman has no experience at second base and that Lopez was the logical choice to make a position switch.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.