Mailbag: Would order shift help Soriano?

Mailbag: Would lineup shuffle benefit Soriano?

With the Nationals playing their third month of the 2006 season, a lot of baseball fans want to know about the team and its chances of getting even better in the National League East.

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

Given the team's recent and unexpected success, do you think general manager Jim Bowden and manager Frank Robinson will keep their jobs?
-- Andrew M., Middleburg, Va.

Let's start with Bowden. I think he has a good chance of keeping his job because he has done an excellent job with the limited resources he's had to work with. I don't think any other person would have done better. Outside of Bowden and Omar Minaya, I believe most GMs would have stood still and let the team lose on a regular basis.

Has Bowden made mistakes? Yes. His biggest, in my opinion, was trading Jamey Carroll to the Rockies, because none of the backup infielders the Nationals currently have can hold a candle to Carroll in terms of baseball fundamentals.

As for Robinson, it's hard to say if he will keep his job. Obviously, the hiring of Davey Johnson as a consultant has fueled speculation that he will be the next manager. But two people in the organization not named Jim Bowden told me that Johnson is not interested in managing the club.

I've said this before: I want to see Robinson manage on a level playing field, which he has never done during his managerial career. But despite having those obstacles around him, Robinson has done an excellent job. With exception of the 2003 season, I thought had the teams he managed in Montreal and Washington had no chance of contending, but he has proved me wrong most of the time.

Like Bowden, Robinson has made mistakes, like refusing to bench Vinny Castilla, Preston Wilson and Cristian Guzman throughout the entire month of September last year. I believe Robinson's lack of movement cost the team a chance of going to the playoffs last year.

Can you please explain why Alfonso Soriano continues to lead off and is not being put in the middle of the batting order?
-- Eric S., Lexington, N.C.

Robinson tried putting Soriano in the middle of the order, but Soriano wasn't as productive. The skipper feels that batting leadoff is Soriano's best position.

Since Soriano had a very poor defensive rating as a second baseman, do you think that he will eventually be a better defensive outfielder than he was a second baseman?
-- Breanna G., Laurel, Md.

That's a good question. I think he will improve, but I think he still considers himself a second baseman. I think he has made tremendous strides as an outfielder, but he still needs to throw overhand and charge the ball a little harder.

I recently went to a Nationals-Braves game in Atlanta, and the guy who impressed me the most was reliever Bill Bray. Do you think that he'll be up for good?
-- Asher K., Birmingham, Ala.

Bray is in the big leagues to stay. He reminds me of a young Billy Wagner. I think he will be an excellent closer in the future.

If the Nationals are in contention for at least a Wild Card berth, what will the Lerner group do? "Rebuilding" and "stacking the Minors" are code words for trading everyone. The Nats could get some great young players for guys like Soriano and Jose Vidro, but I'd rather go to a playoff game at RFK Stadium this year!
-- Michael D., Washington, D.C.

I still think the Nationals are going to trade some veteran players because they really need to restock the farm system. Now, do I think they will have a firesale like I thought they would have three weeks ago? I don't see it happening, because they are winning.

Have a question about the Nationals?
Bill LadsonE-mail your query to Nationals beat reporter Bill Ladson for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
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Are you as worried about the bullpen as I am? Livan Hernandez pitched great last Saturday, but I could see that he was done before Pat Burrell hit the home run. I think Robinson didn't take him out because he had a lack of trust in his bullpen.
-- Brooks E., Boston

For the most part, Hernandez dictates when he comes out of the game, and it's rare for his arm to get tired. I have this feeling when Hernandez is on the mound: He is the starter, setup man and closer, because I think nobody in the bullpen can do the job any better than he can.

How can we find out about the signings of the Nationals' Draft choices? I would like to know where they end up and be able to follow their careers as they try to make the big club.
-- Kevin C., Fairfax, Va.

You can find out by reading Once they are signed, I will report it. As of Monday, none of the draft picks had been signed yet.

What has been wrong with Jon Rauch over the last week? How does he correct it? I thought he was over his food poisoning. Also, what are the health states of Felix Rodriguez and Santiago Ramirez? Will they be returning to the team soon?
-- Brian P., Washington, D.C.

Rauch is over his illness, but Robinson is still concerned about him because his pitches are catching too much of the plate and he is getting hit hard. It will be interesting to see how long Robinson sticks with Rauch.

As for Ramirez and Rodriguez, they will not be back any time soon. Ramirez has elbow problems and Rodriguez has shoulder problems.

I just read that Ryan Church is batting under .200 since being sent to Triple-A New Orleans. Are the Nationals about to give up on him?
-- Jonathan P., Woodbridge, Va.

Bowden is still a fan of Church's, but whether Church is back in the Major Leagues is another story. The team is listening to trade offers for him. I think the only way that Church is back with the Nationals is when he changes his approach to the game. He is talented, but the team wants him to have more fire in his belly.

Don't you think hitting coach Mitchell Page should work with Church, who did better in 2005 than Marlon Byrd? Why isn't Church Page's No. 1 project?
-- Jerry, Jupiter, Fla.

Church would be Page's project if Church were in the Major Leagues. You are one of many people who support Church, but stats are not the only thing the Nationals are judging here. Byrd has fire in his belly, and he has made tremendous strides in the outfield. If you ask him why he is in a hitting slump, Byrd doesn't make excuses, which the team respects.

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