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Notes: Lerner excited about progress

Notes: Lerner excited about improvements

VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner arrived at Space Coast Stadium on Friday afternoon, and he was pleased with the new renovations at the park.

He saw the Marlins' teal seats inside the stadium were gone. Fans are now expected to sit in red and blue seats. Lerner walked on the new black rubber flooring instead of carpet, and he noticed the playing surface was still in great shape.

To get the stadium fixed, the Nationals went to the Brevard County Commission and received $2.6 million from the tourist tax fund. Sources say that the Lerner group spent $300,000-$400,000 on stadium operations, such as groundskeeping and clubhouse equipment.

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"It's incredible; it looks like a whole new building," Lerner said. "I had to blink twice when I pulled up. Matt Blush [the director of capital improvements for the Lerner Corporation] has done an incredible job, and we are delighted with it.

"I don't think anybody wanted to see the teal anymore. We had to do something and do it quickly. The county in Viera has been great. They have been very cooperative. They deserve an applause also."

This Spring Training marks the first full year of the Lerner era, and Mark Lerner still can't believe that he is part of a group that owns the Nationals.

Besides spending time at Space Coast Stadium, Lerner went to the Carl Barger Complex to watch the workouts and greet some of the players. Lerner is expected to stay another day and then return to the Spring Training camp sometime next week.

"It's a little surreal and very exciting," Lerner said. "It might take a day or two to soak it all in. I was very excited coming off the plane this morning. It's a dream come true, certainly."

Injury report: Shortstop Cristian Guzman, who threw the baseball for the first time this spring Friday, said his right shoulder felt a little tight. He took ground balls and threw softly about 50 times. Guzman has tendinitis in his right shoulder, but he feels he will be ready for the exhibition opener against the Dodgers on March 2.

Guzman hasn't played a game since March. He missed all of the 2006 regular season because of a slap tear in the shoulder.

"I'm excited [to play my first game in almost a year]," Guzman said. "I can't wait for the games to get started."

The switch-hitting Guzman said he doesn't have any problems with the shoulder when he is taking batting practice.

"He looked good," said second baseman Felipe Lopez, Guzman's new double-play partner. "He was throwing a little bit and he was swinging the bat very nicely. I'm excited to see him out there."

Manager Manny Acta announced that outfielder Alex Escobar will only play designated hitter until March 15. Escobar is still recovering from a separated shoulder suffered against the Braves on Aug. 25. He doesn't have any problems swinging the bat and he has started throwing the baseball from 110 feet. The next step is to throw at 120 feet. Once he gets to 180 feet, Escobar will start taking fielding practice.

"I don't have any doubt in my mind that I will be ready by the time I leave Spring Training," Escobar said. "I feel like I'm on schedule right now. I'm taking it easy -- one day at a time."

Left-hander Mike O'Connor, who's out with an elbow injury, is throwing from 75 feet on flat ground. He hopes to be playing in a Spring Training game by the end of March. O'Connor most likely will not be with the team for Opening Day.

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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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