Notes: Nats happy to stay put

Notes: Nats happy to stay put

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- This Monday will mark the first time since the 2002 season in which the Nationals/Expos will open the season at home.

The previous four years, the Nationals/Expos have had long road trips to start the season. The longest occurred in 2003, when the Expos played their first 19 games away from Olympic Stadium, including 11 games in Puerto Rico. This year, the Nationals will play their first seven games in Washington.

"If you look at our schedule this year compared to the past Aprils we've had since I've been with this organization, it's really not that bad of a schedule," right-hander John Patterson said. "We are normally so worn out and beat by the end of April, it's like, man, it's takes a whole month to recover."

Eleven of the Nationals' 14 home games in April are against National League East clubs, and catcher Brian Schneider said Washington must win most of those games. By doing so, it will leave a message to opponents that the Nationals will be competitive.

"It would be nice to get off to a good start because you don't want to fall behind right away," Schneider said. "It would be nice to get into a lead if we can. We know we have a good team here."

Not so good: Jason Bergmann had his worst outing of the spring Saturday. He threw 92 pitches and gave up three runs in 3 2/3 innings against the Orioles. It got so bad in the second inning that, after Bergmann walked Aubrey Huff and Jay Gibbons to start the inning, manager Manny Acta sprinted to the mound and told the right-hander to throw strikes and let them hit the ball.

"The message that I'm getting to most of them is, 'Don't lose your job by not being able to throw strikes.' It's simple," Acta said.

Bergmann acknowledged that he didn't have any feel for his pitches because of poor mechanics.

"I didn't feel like I had command of any pitch," Bergmann said. "It's something to work on for the next day," Bergmann said. "At the same time, it's one of those unique situations where I had a bad day and my ERA gets lowered to zero."

Where's the pitching? General manager Jim Bowden said he was surprised that there were not a lot of pitchers available this spring. He acknowledged that the club was looking to add more depth before Opening Day.

"I don't remember a spring where, on this particular day, there were not more releases or more players put on waivers," Bowden said. "We were scouring and we were prepared. Not a lot of players were out there. Everybody kind of held on to everybody."

Bowden said he is hoping that starter Jason Simontacchi and reliever Luis Ayala will be back with the Nationals by late April or early May. Simontacchi has a strained right groin, while Ayala is trying to strengthen his right elbow which was reconstructed early last year.

The Billy Awards: Nationals.com handed out its awards for the month of March.

Hitter of the Month: Ryan Zimmerman could have a spectacular year based on what he did during Spring Training. He hit .414 (29-for-70) with three home runs and 15 RBIs. He even cut down on his strikeouts. He only had seven during Spring Training.

Pitcher of the Month: Acta never doubted Shawn Hill's abilities on the mound. It was just a matter of staying healthy, and Hill did just that and gave up just four earned runs in 26 1/3 innings. Opponents hit .240 against him.

Quick Healer: When you hear that a player has a strained groin, one figures it would take a few weeks for the injury to heal -- not Nook Lagan. After straining his right groin on March 24 against the Cardinals, Logan was back in action Friday and is expected to be the Nationals' Opening Day center fielder.

Rookie of the Month: Kory Casto made it tough on the Nationals. He showed that he could compete in the big leagues, but having options forced the Nationals to send him to Triple-A Columbus.

Comeback Player of the Month: Dmitri Young was thought to be finished in the big leagues after having off the field problems in 2006. Bowden, however, gave Young a second chance and Young took advantage of the situation by being a leader in the Minor and Major League camps. He also showed that he had life with the bat and became the starting first baseman.

For a good cause: The Nationals Dream Foundation announced a long-term partnership with Children's National Medical Center, along with a commitment to build a Youth Baseball Academy in the District.

The Foundation is making a commitment of $1.25 million in cash and $750,000 in assets as the lead gift in the creation of a Pediatric Diabetes Care Facility at Children's National Medical Center. The facility will enable the medical center to strengthen and enhance its long-standing role as a national leader in pediatric diabetes care. The facility will be a world-class family-centered care complex, which will later be named for the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation.

The Foundation has committed to a partnership with the District of Columbia to build the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy to teach the fundamentals of baseball and provide after-school educational programs for children in the DC region. Foundation and government officials are working diligently to secure the ideal location in the District for the Academy.

This and that: Robert Fick returned to the team after missing the past two games, because he was visiting his ailing mother. ... The Nationals are not expected to have a sellout on Opening Day. For now, Washington is expecting 34,000 fans but hopes to reach the 40,000 plateau by Monday.

Coming up: The Nationals have a light workout on Sunday and play their Opening Day game against the Marlins at 1:05 ET on Monday afternoon at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium. Patterson will take the mound against Florida left-hander Dontrelle Willis.

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