Inbox: What's different with Kearns?

Inbox: What's different with Kearns?

Will the Nationals become playoff contenders in 2009? Is Adam Dunn the reason Austin Kearns is having a productive Spring Training? Those are two of the many questions Nats fans want to know during Spring Training. Here are answers to some of those queries.

Kearns is having a good spring, hitting .333 with two home runs and seven RBIs. Do you think he is having success because he's back with his buddy Dunn?
-- David M., Woodbridge, Conn.

I asked your question to Kearns, and the answer is no. His good spring is because of hitting coach Rick Eckstein, who is trying to get Kearns back to what he was during his first two years with the Reds.

Kearns no longer has a closed stance, as Eckstein suggested that he open his stance so he would no longer be vulnerable to inside pitches.

Bill, here's your $1 million question: Will the Nationals become playoff contenders in 2009?
-- Alex C., Montreal

Last year, I thought the Nationals would be playoff contenders, and they proved me wrong. I've been burned once, so I'm going to be cautious and say they will be better than last year. I like the way the bullpen is shaping up, and Eckstein has been working with the hitters. I have to take a wait-and-see approach on the starting pitching.

Is Wily Mo Pena still in the running to get on the 25-man roster?
-- David, W., Arlington, Va.

Yes, he is. He could be that extra position player that manager Manny Acta plans to carry north with him. He will compete with Dmitri Young and Kory Casto for that spot.

Jordan Zimmermann is the real deal. He is the savior to this franchise. What are your thoughts on him?
-- Brent N., Hamel, Minn.

You sound like me when third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and left-hander John Lannan first came to the big leagues. We are judging Zimmermann based on what he did in the Minor Leagues and in Spring Training. There is no question that he has done a great job, thus far. In this case, however, I'm going to wait a month before I decide if he is a savior or not.

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If Nick Johnson gets hurt this season, will Dunn move to first base?
-- Jack S., Washington, D.C.

You are going to think I'm crazy, but don't count out Young. While he is few steps below Johnson defensively, Young is probably a couple of steps above Dunn. Don't forget that Young can still hit.

The Nationals can't possibly go north with Elijah Dukes, Lasting Milledge, Dunn, Kearns, Pena and Josh Willingham on the 25-roster. Who is going to get cut or traded?
-- Bobby M. Gaithersburg, Md.

There is a strong possibility that they could go into the season with a lot of outfielders unless assistant general manager Mike Rizzo can make a trade. Something could happen by next week.

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