Mailbag: What lies ahead for Nationals?

Mailbag: What lies ahead for Nationals?

With the Nationals off to a 4-9 start, a lot of baseball fans want to know about the team and its chances of competing in the National League East.

Here are some answers to your questions. Keep those e-mails coming. Thanks a bunch.

Do you believe that general manager Jim Bowden has destroyed team chemistry by giving up outfielders Terrmel Sledge and Brad Wilkinson for left fielder Alfonso Soriano? Do you think the former Nationals outfielders will become All-Stars during the next two to three years?
-- David P., Washington, D.C.

No, I don't think the trade destroyed team chemistry. In fact, this trade is going to be the steal of 2006. I have no doubts that getting Soriano was a great move. He is doing the job with the bat, and he's not bad as an outfielder. As I said the past, I had high hopes for Wilkerson a few years back, but he is a strikeout machine, and the Nationals don't miss that part of his game. We'll see how long Rangers manager Buck Showalter tolerates the whiffs. There's no doubt in my mind that Sledge is going to be a star, so he will be missed. He is a patient hitter and will be a run producer.

Why did the Nationals send Wiki Gonzalez to the Minors? Is Washington comfortable with Mathew LeCroy as the backup catcher?
-- Dale T., Walton Hills, Ohio

It's true that Gonzalez was not given a chance to prove himself, but the Nationals needed more offense in the worst way and that's why Ryan Church and Brendan Harris were called up to the big leagues. Washington is not comfortable with LeCroy behind the plate. That's why manager Frank Robinson said recently that Brian Schneider would not get a lot of rest during the season. That's too bad, because I believe lack of rest will hurt Schneider's bat in the long run. If you look at Schneider's history -- 2003 and '04 -- he slumps badly when he doesn't get any rest.

Since both Christian Guzman and Royce Clayton are injured, who will step up in short? Will the Nats call up Ian Desmond or place Brendan Harris in that role?
-- Michael S., Richmond, Va.

Clayton believes that he will be OK, so I expect him to play in the Phillies series starting on Tuesday night. If Clayton isn't ready to go, I expect either Harris or Damian Jackson getting the start. As far as Desmond goes, I don't see him in the Majors anytime soon. The Nationals thought he took a step backward compared to last year. While they saw some improvement with the bat, the Nationals thought he made too many mistakes with the glove.

Can you tell me what the Nationals winning percentage was when Ryan Church started last year?
-- Danyiel M., Washington, D.C.

The Nationals were 32-31 for a .508 winning percentage when Church started in 2005.

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Why don't the Nationals call up Kenny Kelly to be leadoff hitter?
-- Gabriel, Quebec, Canada

Believe me when I tell you that the Nationals, especially Robinson, are keeping their eyes on Kelly, who is hitting .400 at the top spot for Triple-A New Orleans. But, for now, I think Washington is going to stick with the Soriano, Church and Jose Guillen in the outfield.

Any chance we'll see Tyrell Godwin at some point this season?
-- Diego A., San Jose, Calif.

No. Godwin has a lot to learn. He has to learn to work the count, be a better defensive outfielder and base runner. On paper, he had a good batting average during Spring Training, but the organization was not happy with his overall skills.

What role will Robert Fick play once he is taken off the disabled list?
-- Brian S., Washington, D.C.

He will be the No. 2 catcher, play some first base and in the outfield. He is currently on a rehab assignment with Double-A Harrisburg.

Is there any pitching help in New Orleans? That's obviously the team's biggest need.
-- Terry D, Gettysburg, Pa.

Yes, there's help on the way. Billy Traber will start against the Phillies on Thursday.

How much patience do you think the Nationals will have with reliever Joey Eischen? It seems to me that he never showed he was ready for the season.
-- Joe T., Silver Spring, Md.

It depends who you talk to. Robinson has the patience, but others in the organization do not. I think if Eischen continues to pitch poorly, I believe you will see Bill Bray replacing Eischen. It also wouldn't surprise me if Eischen was traded.

In Eischen's defense, he didn't have much of a Spring Training because of shoulder problems. Let's give him a few more appearances before we pass judgment.

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