Inbox: Who will play first base in '09?

Inbox: Who will play first base in '09?

The Nationals finished the 2008 season in fifth place with a 59-102 record. Now the team is in Spring Training and fans want to know what Washington can do to get better. Here are more answers to their questions.

Who do you see starting at first base for the Nationals this season?
-- Mark H., Washington, D.C.

It's going to be a tough decision for the Nationals to make, but I would like to see Nick Johnson at the position because of his defense. Ideally, Washington would have both Johnson and Adam Dunn in the lineup, with Dunn in the outfield and Johnson at first base.

You've written that you don't feel that general manager Jim Bowden relies too heavily on former Reds. After the Dunn signing, has it made you rethink that Bowden is still wearing his Cincinnati bowtie?
-- Matt M., Winooski, Vt.

It's true that Bowden has signed or traded for players he had success with in Cincinnati. I see nothing wrong with it. It's a non-issue. Look at Mets general manager Omar Minaya: he has signed and traded for a lot of former Nationals and Expos.

I can't tell you how many times Bowden has told me he wanted to sign free agents Mark Teixeira and Orlando Hudson or trade for Lastings Milledge. None of those guys have connections to the Reds.

Why is Milledge penciled in ahead of Elijah Dukes in center field? Dukes has a better arm, glove, on-base and slugging percentage.
-- Trey O., Washington, D.C.

Manager Manny Acta recently announced that Milledge is the starting center fielder. The team also likes the fact that Milledge had a strong second half. You always have to put a question mark next to Dukes' name because of his off-field problems and the injuries he suffered last year.

I get the feeling that Anderson Hernandez is getting lost in the shuffle. I still believe Hernandez is the team's best option economically and on the field.
-- Dean C., Washington, D.C.

Hernandez is not lost in the shuffle. In fact, he is the leading candidate for the second-base job. There is no need to acquire a guy like Hudson. All Hernandez needed was a chance, and he proved last year the type player he is.

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The Nats have done a pretty good job selecting pitchers in the Draft. Will they make a concerted effort to find bats in this year's First-Year Player Draft?
-- Bern D., Washington, D.C.

If you asked this question to assistant general manager Mike Rizzo or amateur scouting director Dana Brown, they would say, "We are going to take the best player in the Draft." I'm sure they will go after hitters, but I expect them to draft an equal amount of pitchers like they have in previous years.

If Joel Hanrahan can't hold onto the closer role, who is next in line for a chance as Washington's stopper?
-- Ed, New Jersey

I asked Acta the same question Sunday afternoon. He will not know until the end of Spring Training. Right-hander Shawn Hill could do a great job in the role if Hanrahan falters. The guy is all business on the mound and I believe his arm could withstand pitching an inning or two in a game.

With all of the outfielders in the organization, I have yet to hear the suggestion of having Willie Harris play second base.
-- Jeff, Washington, D.C.

Harris is a candidate for the starting second-base job and I believe he can do well at the position. He is Washington's best leadoff hitter, but the organization seems content on using him as a reserve.

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