Notes: Club looking to extend Bowden

Notes: Club looking to extend Bowden

VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals are looking to extend Jim Bowden's contract, according to a baseball source. The current deal expires April 30.

Bowden and team president Tony Tavares were not available for comment. Bowden has worked on short-term contracts since he joined the Nationals on Nov. 2, 2004. The first one ran through April 30, 2005, but it was later extended for the rest of the season.

Last October, Bowden, 44, was given a six-month extension. Since then, he has overhauled the Nationals. He hired an entirely new coaching staff, and of the 54 players who played for the Nationals last season, 28 of them are no longer with the organization.

Bowden is currently trying to improve the pitching staff by signing right-hander Pedro Astacio to a Minor League contract. Bowden said it's 50-50 that the right-hander will take the deal.

The table setter: During his time with the Nationals/Expos, manager Frank Robinson has never had a true leadoff hitter. The closest one he had was Brad Wilkerson, who is now with the Rangers. Wilkerson was known to draw a lot of walks and hit his share of home runs.

With Wilkerson gone, Robinson has to search for a leadoff hitter. The skipper pointed out that outfielder Brandon Watson will get the nod every time he starts during the exhibition season. The Nationals' brass would like Watson to win the job because he is the only true leadoff hitter in the organization.

"He would make my decision a little easier if he came in and won the job," Robinson said. "But winning the job [does not mean he was just doing well at the leadoff spot]. He also has to play good defense in the outfield."

Robinson also didn't rule out Cristian Guzman, Ryan Church or Marlon Byrd as leadoff candidates. All three will get a chance at the top of the order this spring.

The last time Guzman led off was in 2004 for the Twins. He hit .286 (38-for-133) with three home runs, 15 RBIs and two walks leading off.

Church performed well in his few opportunities in the leadoff spot last year, while Byrd's best season in the big leagues was in 2003, when he was the Phillies' leadoff hitter. That year, he hit .303 with seven home runs and 45 RBIs.

Robinson said that Alfonso Soriano and Nick Johnson would not be considered for the leadoff spot. Robinson is aware that Soriano has experience at the top of the order, but the skipper wants Soriano to drive in runs.

Robinson had Johnson leading off during the exhibition season last year, but he feels Johnson is better suited to batting second or third in the order.

Injury report: Catcher/first baseman Robert Fick had X-rays taken on Tuesday and it was revealed that he has loose bodies in his right elbow. He was given a shot in the elbow on Wednesday morning and didn't participate in any catching drills.

"They gave me a shot to see if they can get the inflammation down," Fick said.

Fick insist that he can play with the injury, but acknowledged that surgery is a possibility after the season.

Forget it: Early on Wednesday, the Nationals were hoping that Sammy Sosa would change his mind and join the team for Spring Training. But the Nationals believe that Sosa's playing days are over. On Tuesday night, Sosa rejected a one-year, $1 million non-guaranteed offer.

On the radio: The Nationals will broadcast 15 exhibition games, including the home and road games against the Orioles on March 31 and April 1. The games will be heard on WTWP.

Stats of the day: Soriano hit .421 (5-for-12) with a home run and two RBIs against the Nationals last season.

Did you know: The Nationals were 70-63 when Guzman was in the starting lineup in 2005.

Quote of the day: "See pitch, like pitch, swing pitch. He is a good hitter, but [Jose] Vidro likes to attack the ball. There's nothing wrong with that. He has been very successful when he has had his good years. I don't want to put that type of responsibility on him. I wouldn't ask him to take pitches 2-0 or 3-1.
-- Robinson on why Vidro is not a candidate at the leadoff spot

Bill Ladson is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.