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Notes: Guillen contract talks 'positive'

Notes: Guillen contract talks 'positive'

WASHINGTON -- Nationals outfielder Jose Guillen had a meeting with team president Tony Tavares about a contract extension on Friday. While the sides are not yet close to a deal, Tavares described the talks as positive.

Guillen declined to talk about the extension, but he appears willing to have contract negotiations beyond Opening Day, according to Tavares. Guillen originally hinted that he may test the free agent market after the 2006 season if he didn't have a contract done by the opener.

"I'm motivated and he's motivated [to get a deal done]," Tavares said. "We'll see. He would love to get a deal done before Opening Day, but I can't promise that is going to happen. I promised him one thing: I will not distract him with contract negotiations. I do think there's a way of continuing on after the season has started without distractions."

Guillen is making $4 million in 2006, and he will be a free agent after the season. According to two sources, he wants a five-year deal worth $50 million. However, the Nationals are offering a four-year deal that would pay between $6.5 and $7 million per season.

Tavares declined to talk about the numbers, but according to one source, there has been some give and take between the two parties. The Nationals are willing to up the offer, but not to go to the $10 million-a-year range. The team has to go to Major League Baseball for approval for a new offer.

Guillen came to Spring Training early to strengthen his left shoulder, which was surgically repaired during the offseason. He later had left wrist problems and didn't make his Spring Training debut until March 20.

But Guillen has worked hard and is expected be ready for Opening Day against the Mets on Monday.

"You know how hard I've been working," Guillen said. "I have to say thank you to [strength and conditioning coordinator Kazuhiko Tomooka]. He has been getting me where I need to be."

One man's opinion: Left fielder Alfonso Soriano looked at spacious Robert F. Kennedy Stadium on Friday and said the park reminded him of McAfee Coliseum in Oakland.

Soriano hit a few balls out of the park at RFK during batting practice on Friday, but that doesn't mean that he is going to hit them when the season starts.

"I have to see," he said. "It's a different feeling when you hit in the game."

GM concerns: General manager Jim Bowden said that his biggest concerns entering Opening Day are Washington's starting pitching and how Brandon Watson plays center field.

Bowden likes the fact he has two solid starters in Livan Hernandez and John Patterson, but Pedro Astacio, Ramon Ortiz and Tony Armas Jr. are question marks.

"After Livo and Patterson, the guys we have might step up and do it," Bowden said. "The reality is, our preference was to sign a [A.J.] Burnett and [Kevin] Millwood, so we could walk in with three [solid starters]. Baseball-wise, that's what we want to get to.

"Now, we made offers to those guys and we couldn't get it done. It's hard to trade for it, so we have to live within our budget, and we live with what we have to deal with. But they are ifs. If I was comfortable, believe me, they would be making $8 to $10 million per year, not $2 million."

While Watson outperformed Church in Spring Training, Bowden wants to see the center fielder have a season like he had at Triple-A New Orleans, in which he hit .355 in 88 games. Watson is expected to be the leadoff hitter for the Nationals on Opening Day against the Mets.

"I'm hoping Brandon can do what he did in March," Bowden said. "I'm hoping he can do what he did all last year in the Minor Leagues and carry it over. That would give this team a big boost."

Watson gave the Nationals a boost on Friday against the Orioles. He went 2-for-5 with a stolen base, his eighth of the spring. He even made a spectacular diving catch off the bat of Miguel Tejada in the fourth inning.

"He was unbelievable tonight," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "If he can set the table and do that day in and day out, we are going to win a lot more games because of it. If you can be on base, with all the hitters we have in our lineup, it's going to be a big advantage for our team."

Watson said playing in a Major League park added more enthusiasm to his game.

"The fans are big in a big-league park," he said. "It's that time of year."

What a relief: Washington's bullpen has moved from left to right field at RFK Stadium. The move was made because the team's relievers complained that it was too hot in left.

During day games, the sun would beam on the relievers, and they had no shade to protect them. Even at night, the relievers claimed they had no way of cooling off during the summer.

"It's going to work out very well for us," closer Chad Cordero said. "Last year, there was no shade out in left field. In right field, you have everything. We are not going to get worn out after sitting in the sun, especially during the summer out here. You get worn down real quick. It's going to be a big boost to us."

What's wrong? Zimmerman made his eighth error of the spring on Friday against the Orioles. He acknowledged that he was in a defensive slump for most of the spring. Early in the exhibition season, he was having throwing problems. Recently, though, he has had a tough time fielding the ball.

"The first part of the spring, I didn't think my arm was in shape yet," Zimmerman said. "My arm is fine and it hasn't been hurting at all. Tonight, I felt great. I feel good on the field. I'm not worried about it at all. I'm ready to go out there and make plays for the pitchers."

The Big Nasty: Patterson had his worst outing of the spring on Friday, giving up four runs, three earned, in five innings. He threw 92 pitches, and manager Frank Robinson felt Patterson wasn't comfortable on the mound.

"His breaking ball was [off] as far as location and the strike zone," Robinson said.

Patterson said that he still had to get rid of some of the kinks in one of his pitches.

"I still have to get my slider going," he said. "Everything else feels pretty good. Arm strength will get better as the season goes. The changeup and curveball still feels good."

Around the horn: The Nationals are 9-22-1 this spring. ... Washington D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams threw out the first pitch before Friday's game. ... The Nationals are hitting .253 and have made 47 errors this spring.

Quote of the day: "I've seen teams look terrible in Spring Training, but once the bell rings, they play championship-caliber baseball. ... So we just have to wait and see which team shows up on Monday in New York and the day after." -- Robinson, after his team lost its 22nd game of the spring on Friday

Coming up: The Nationals play their final exhibition game on Saturday afternoon at 4:35 p.m. ET, when they meet the Orioles in Baltimore at Camden Yards. Right-hander Pedro Astacio will get the start for Washington, while righty Daniel Cabrera gets the nod for Baltimore.

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

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