Healthy Guzman ready to take back job

Healthy Guzman ready to take shortstop job

WASHINGTON -- By trading second baseman Jose Vidro to the Mariners and announcing that Felipe Lopez will switch from shortstop to second base, the Nationals sent a strong message to the public that Cristian Guzman has recovered from his right shoulder injury and will be their regular shortstop in 2007.

Guzman confirmed on Wednesday that he is healthy and will be Lopez's double-play partner. In fact, Guzman plans to report to Spring Training on Jan. 17.

"My shoulder is good because I'm working hard every day," Guzman said via telephone. "I'm going to be in Spring Training early to do all my stuff. I want to meet all the new people over there. Everything is normal.

"I never played with Lopez. I played with Vidro and he is a good man. It's my [goal to work with Lopez]. We have to practice a lot of things together. I know he has played a lot of years like me, but when you are partners, that is a different story. We will go to Spring Training to work hard."

Guzman didn't get a chance to play with Lopez in 2006 because of a torn labrum in his shoulder. The problems date back to his days with the Twins, but the pain grew worse in a Spring Training game against the Marlins last March.

In the top of the second inning, with two outs, Marlins right fielder Mark Little hit a sharp grounder to Guzman, who backhanded the ball. He had plenty of time to get Little, but there wasn't any zip to his throw. The ball hit the ground and went past first baseman Nick Johnson for an error.

Guzman didn't play for the rest of the exhibition season, but he tried to rehab the shoulder to avoid surgery. The shoulder was getting stronger to the point where the Nationals let him play extended Spring Training games in Viera, Fla., but he continued to feel pain and decided to have surgery in early May.

The news was a huge blow to Guzman, who wanted to show that he was worth the four-year, $16 million contract he signed with Washington in November 2004. In 2005, Guzman had the toughest season of his career, hitting .219 with four home runs and 31 RBIs.

Guzman now admits that the shoulder ailment and vision problems were the reasons for his bad year. He had laser eye surgery after the season, but didn't fix the shoulder. Guzman said that he has no regrets about not having the shoulder surgery during his time in Minnesota.

"In Minnesota, I knew I could still play," Guzman said. "But last year, I could do nothing because I had a lot of pain. That's why [my agent, Stanley King, and I] made the decision [to have the shoulder surgery]."

Guzman said the Nationals can expect him to be the player who helped the Twins win three consecutive American League Central Division titles from 2002-04.

"I'm going to do everything I know how to do," Guzman said "Everybody knows how I play baseball [when I'm healthy]: Get on base and play hard."

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