Lopez's attitude earns him two starts

Lopez's attitude earns him starts

MIAMI -- The Nationals are struggling, Felipe Lopez has kept a good attitude despite losing his starting job and manager Manny Acta is aware of Lopez's pedigree as a National League All-Star.

Those three factors meshed in Acta's mind Friday in helping him make a decision to shake up his lineup. They explain why Acta plans to give Lopez, the versatile infielder-outfielder, at least two starts in a row, and even hopes he wins back a starting job. Lopez promptly rewarded Acta by doubling to right-center field in his first at-bat.

Lopez took Ronnie Belliard's second-base spot in Friday night's game against the Marlins, and will replace Cristian Guzman at shortstop in Saturday night's game.

"We're struggling offensively and he's one of those guys who could get involved and maybe make things happen for us," Acta said, referring to the fact that the Nationals have lost 12 of their last 13 games since opening the season 3-0.

Acta saw how Lopez was affected in losing his starting shortstop job to Guzman this spring. After all, just three seasons ago, Lopez was a National League All-Star with the Reds.

"He's kept a tremendous attitude and worked hard," the manager said. "At the same time, I know it's not easy for him. It's a very tough job what he's been doing, just getting one at-bat every now and then."

Acta said he took into account Lopez's exemplary attitude, despite things souring for him on the field; he entered Friday night's game hitting just .194 in 31 at-bats.

"I think that's the reason I'm leaning more toward giving him an opportunity to play more and, who knows, maybe get his job back," Acta said.

The manager admittedly is looking to "shake things up a little" with the Nationals seeking answers. To compound Thursday night's 14-inning, 3-2 loss to the Mets, the Nationals did not arrive at their hotel here until about 5:30 a.m. Some didn't get to sleep until after six.

"It's never easy," Acta said, shaking his head. "I got a couple hours' sleep on the plane, and I hope some others did."

The manager paused a moment, then added with a smile, "I think the guys are pumped up about getting out of the cold weather."

Outfielder Lastings Milledge expected to be tired in Friday night's game, but shrugged it off by saying, "They pay us to play like professionals no matter how we feel."

Meanwhile third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said he just put his headphones on and slept reasonably well on the way down.

"I've learned how to make the best of it," he said. "I actually got up this morning around 11:15 and felt pretty good. I like that better than sleeping all day."

Yet Zimmerman acknowledged it's still not all that easy to sleep with the Nationals losing games with too much regularity.

"We've lost some tough games," he said, "but the important thing is we're not playing bad. We're just not getting timely hits. We're playing solid defense. It'll come."

Acta is hopeful that the Nationals can regain some momentum in this three-game series with the Marlins. One significant boost could come from the return from injury Saturday of right-hander Shawn Hill, who was one of the club's better pitchers last season until he was injured.

Charlie Nobles is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.