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Lopez adamant about starting role

Lopez cool to idea of bench role

LAKELAND, Fla. -- After Tuesday's 9-1 victory over the Tigers, Nationals infielder Felipe Lopez pulled no punches when he said he will not embrace a bench role with the club.

Lopez is battling Ronnie Belliard and Bret Boone to be the starting second baseman, and it's Belliard who is blowing away the competition with a .459 batting average. Lopez, on the other hand, is 8-for-44 (.205), and Tuesday marked the second time Lopez played second base this spring. Lopez had been playing shortstop because manager Manny Acta didn't want to overwork Cristian Guzman.

"Being on the bench? No. [Heck] no," Lopez said. "I feel good out there. The numbers are not showing it, but I'm hitting the ball hard. I'm playing great defense. I feel good. I would like to stay here, but I would not be happy on the bench."

Asked if he would rather be traded, Lopez said, "I'm not saying that. I don't know what's going to happen, but I'm not going to be happy on the bench."

Last week, there was a rumor going around that the Cubs were interested in Lopez's services, but two sources squashed that rumor. An opposing scout believed the Nationals would have a tough time trading Lopez because of perceived "attitude issues."

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Last year, Lopez had his worst season as a regular, hitting .245 with nine home runs and 50 RBIs. He already admitted that off-the-field problems were the reasons for his down year. By all accounts, Lopez has had a great attitude this spring.

"I'm just having fun, man," Lopez said. "I don't even think about competition. I'm playing hard. I like these guys here. I like what the Nationals have going on. Whatever happens, happens for the best."

By contrast, Belliard said he would accept any role with the Nationals and considers himself a utility player. It was that team-first attitude that earned him a two-year extension. Last year, Belliard started the season as a reserve, but became the regular second baseman by late June because of a thumb injury to Guzman.

"It doesn't matter to me. Whatever they decide. I already said that to them. I'm not going to get upset," Belliard said. "They gave me the chance to play when Cristian went down. Whatever my role will be, I'll take it."

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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