Mailbag: Will Kearns return as starter?

Mailbag: Will Kearns return as starter?

The Nationals finished the 2008 season in fifth place in the National League East with a 59-102 record, and fans want to know what Washington can do to get better next season. Here are more answers to their questions.

I've been an Austin Kearns fan for years, and he hasn't really lived up to the hype because of injuries and slumps. With his rough season in 2008, is this the end for Kearns as a starter?
-- Chad B., Hitchins, Ky.

This is a question I can't answer right now. I hope to know more by the Winter Meetings. However, there are some things one has to look at when it comes to Kearns.

Kearns is respected in the organization and could be given another chance because of his great work ethic alone. We know injuries have played a huge role in his batting slumps. There is also the Elijah Dukes factor. Let's say Dukes gets hurt, who is going to play in right field? This is where Kearns comes in.

What are your thoughts on catcher Luke Montz?
-- Louis G., Washington

I can't judge Montz on 21 at-bats. It was good to see that he improved his numbers in the Minor Leagues, which helped put him on the Nationals' radar.

There seems to be a lot of people getting on Lastings Milledge and his play in center field. I thought he improved dramatically over the course of the season. Why are people writing him off as a corner outfielder?
-- Justin E., Potomac, Md.

By the middle of the summer, I thought Milledge made tremendous strides in center field, but the month of September was not a good one for him. There were a lot of people -- in the front office and media -- who were wondering why Milledge was playing near the warning track all the time. It took former first-base coach Jerry Morales to explain that Milledge had trouble going back on balls.

Will Ronnie Belliard be playing for the Nationals next season? If so, do you think he will start?
-- Clare M., Mechanicsburg, Pa.

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With the team needing to make changes, I don't know at this time. If Belliard is with the Nationals on Opening Day, I could see him as a backup behind Anderson Hernandez.

In the two years Manny Acta has been the manager of the Nationals, no starter has pitched a complete game. This is mind-boggling. Why is this? You would think that in two years, at least one pitcher would be able to go the distance.
-- Dave F., Seaford, Del.

Actually, Jason Bergmann and Tim Redding pitched complete games this past season. Acta wants to see his starters leave the game on a positive note if they have the lead after seven innings. That's why members of the bullpen come in during the late innings.

Considering they have a first-base opening, could the Nationals try to pick up a veteran with strong name recognition, such as Nomar Garciaparra, until a young player can take over in September?
-- Keith S., Arlington, Va.

I don't see that happening at first base. The Nationals are looking for a player who will be with them long term. That's why the team is going after Mark Teixeira.

Where does Kory Casto fit into next year's plans?
-- Bill L., Columbia, Mo.

I'm sure Casto needs to have a great Spring Training to be on the Opening Day roster. I see him in nothing more than a utility role if he makes the team.

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