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Notes: Lopez looks to bounce back

Notes: Lopez looks to bounce back

WASHINGTON -- Infielder Felipe Lopez understands why the Nationals have been looking for a leadoff hitter this offseason. In 2007, the team's leadoff hitters hit a combined .243 with a .308 on-base percentage.

Lopez was the primary guy at the top spot last season, and he ended up having his worst season as an everyday player, hitting .245 with nine home runs and 50 RBIs.

"They are a little skeptical, but I know I can do the job," Lopez said by phone recently. "A lot of people have had bad years -- a lot of good players -- and they bounce back. That what I want to do. I want to bounce back."

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The Nationals' depth chart has Lopez as a backup second baseman and shortstop, but privately, the team believes he could rebound and be the leadoff hitter. As of now, the only other leadoff hitter the Nats have is shortstop Cristian Guzman, who has a career .302 on-base percentage.

"I'm getting ready [for the season] like I always do," Lopez said. "I learned a lesson from last year. I think I'm stronger mentally than ever now."

Lopez was not mentally strong last season. He acknowledged that off-the-field problems affected his play, but he declined to say what the issues were. By the time things were solved, Lopez said he was so far behind the eight ball that it was difficult to make a comeback during the second half of the season.

Things got so bad at one point that manager Manny Acta and first-base coach Jerry Morales had a closed-door meeting with Lopez on Sept. 15 to give him a vote of confidence. They informed Lopez that he was doing OK despite being in a 3-for-18 (.167) slump and making four errors in five games.

"There were a couple of off-the-field problems," Lopez said. "Yeah, it affected me tremendously, and then by the time I was able to fix the problems, I was playing catch-up. I was trying to overdo things. That's not the way you play baseball. It's like a learning experience. I look at all the positives. I can't take back the .245."

Lopez vows he will once again be the player who had a combined .358 on-base percentage and scored 98 runs for the Reds and Nationals in 2006.

"I want to get back to getting on base, scoring runs and having a high average. That's what I always want to do," Lopez said. "The team looks really good with all the moves they are making."

Minor Leagues news: On Wednesday, the Nationals named their Minor League coordinators, managers, coaches and trainers for the 2008 season.

Jeff Garber, who spent the last 20 years in the Royals organization as a player, coach or manager, joins the Nationals as Minor League field coordinator. He served as Kansas City's Minor League field and outfield coordinator in 2007 after working as coordinator of instruction in 2006.

Tim Foli returns to the dugout to manage Triple-A Columbus after spending the 2007 season as Washington's Minor League field coordinator. Foli managed the franchise's Triple-A affiliate in New Orleans in 2005 and '06.

John Stearns returns as manager of Double-A Harrisburg, a position he held in 2006, after skippering Columbus in 2007.

Randy Knorr returns for his third season as manager of Class A Potomac. He led the Potomac Nationals to a 69-68 record in 2007, becoming the first Potomac skipper since 1998 to guide his club to a winning record.

Darnell Coles will manage Class A Hagerstown after being at the helm of short-season Class A Vermont in 2007. The 14-year big league veteran joined the Washington organization in 2006 as a Minor League roving hitting instructor. He led his Vermont club last season to its first winning record (38-37) since 2000. Ramon Aviles, who played in parts of four big league seasons with Boston and Philadelphia, replaces Coles as manager at Vermont.

Cesar Cedeno, who served as a Spring Training instructor with the Nationals in 2007, has been named a coach with the Gulf Coast League Nationals.

Tickets: The Nationals announced that beginning this Friday, fans who had not previously made deposits for season tickets can immediately select season-ticket seat locations and purchase season tickets by visiting nationals.com.

Seat locations selected online are required to be paid in full at the time of the transaction. Fans who had renewed their season-ticket accounts, along with those who purchased new packages, have already received their seat locations, based upon the priority outlined in the Nationals' relocation process.

Season-ticket plans available for purchase include full-season (81 games), half-season (41 games) and partial-season (20 games) packages. Full-season and half-season plan holders will receive complimentary tickets to the Saturday, March 29, exhibition game vs. the Baltimore Orioles. Tickets to Opening Night at Nationals Park on Sunday, March 30, are part of these packages as well. The Nationals' home opener against the Braves will be televised nationally on ESPN.

Partial-season plan holders will receive complimentary tickets to the exhibition game if a partial plan is purchased before Dec. 31 and will also have an opportunity to purchase Opening Night tickets prior to the tickets going on sale to the public.

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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