Mailbag: Will Kearns be right fielder?

Mailbag: Will Kearns be right fielder?

Opening Day is three weeks away and fans want to know if the Nationals will be better in 2008. Here are some answers to their questions.

I'm a huge Austin Kearns fan and noticed that he hasn't been hitting in Spring Training. Is he still considered the starting right fielder?
-- Chad B., Hitchins, Ky.

As long as general manager Jim Bowden and manager Manny Acta are in the organization, Kearns will always be in the starting lineup. In their minds, he is the second-best player behind Ryan Zimmerman.

Any chance for a change in closers for '08? Chad Cordero is too unpredictable!
-- Jim B., Bisbee, Ariz.

I can't think of anyone better to close games other than Cordero. Besides being a successful closer, I love Cordero's mental makeup. When he blows a game, Cordero is not going to take it out on the media. Cordero will blame himself, move on and close another game.

Do you think Zimmerman will have a breakout season in 2008?
-- Dylan H., Leona Valley, Calif.

There is no doubt in my mind about it. With his wrist 100 percent, Zimmerman will hit over .300 with 40 home runs and 120 RBIs. I think he's that good of a hitter.

Felipe Lopez is not doing very well in Spring Training and it looks like he will not be in the starting lineup.
-- Alex C., Montreal

I think it's too early to say that Lopez is going to be benched. There's still three weeks to go before the season starts.

What are the Nationals' plans for John Lannan? In his starts last year, especially against Barry Bonds and the Giants, Lannan showed the mental toughness and tenacity that seems to elude many younger pitchers when they hit the Major Leagues.
-- Roger B., Bethesda, Md.

There is no question that Lannan will be in the rotation this year. I agree with you that he has the mental toughness. I think two years from now, Lannan will be the ace of the staff.

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Question:

Who do you see as the Opening Day starter for the big game on ESPN?
-- Jason H., Rockwood, Tenn.

Some of the beat writers were talking about this the other day. I have to say that Odalis Perez will be the Opening Day starter. I don't see Shawn Hill making the start because he is hurt and, as of now, John Patterson is slated to pitch against the Phillies on March 31.

Also, don't count out Lannan to be the starter. The guy has ice water in his veins.

Why does Dmitri Young throw off his helmet whenever he gets an extra-base hit?
-- Ross S., Ashburn, Va.

He does it in tribute to former Major Leaguer Gary Matthews, who also used to take off his helmet whenever he collected an extra-base hit.

Does former reliever Bobby Brownlie have a shot at making the Opening Day roster?
-- Tom D. Monroe, N.J.

There's no chance. In fact, he was sent to Minor League camp on Monday. The bullpen is pretty much set. I would not be surprised, however, if he was in the Major Leagues during the season.

Which non-roster invitee, in your opinion, has impressed the most this Spring Training?
-- Larry W., Montreal

I have to say right-hander Steven Shell, who was discovered by Davey Johnson. Shell's breaking pitches are nasty. If Hill went on the disabled list, I would not be surprised if Shell had a spot in the rotation or ended up being a long reliever.

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