Wilkerson sets pace in leadoff race

Robinson had decided on spot several days ago

Nationals notebook

April 05, 2005|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA - Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson experimented with his batting order during the last week of spring training, seemingly juggling leadoff hitters in an attempt to find the right fit.

It was all for show.

Robinson said yesterday he had decided "six days ago" to make Brad Wilkerson his Opening Day leadoff hitter, though Wilkerson hadn't been atop the lineup all spring.

Endy Chavez held the spot until a week ago, when his anemic on-base percentage finally pushed him to the minors. Robinson then had shortstop Cristian Guzman lead off twice, and first baseman Nick Johnson led off four times.

With the games counting, though, Robinson again called on Wilkerson, who had a .382 on-base percentage in 107 games as a leadoff hitter in 2004.

"I feel like it is the best lineup for us," Robinson said. "I observed and I watched and I feel. That's why."

With Wilkerson moving up in the lineup, Johnson batted fifth.

"I had thought about having him there from the opening of spring training in the five hole," Robinson said about Johnson, a talented left-hander who hasn't driven in more than 58 runs in any of his four big league seasons.

Robinson also moved Wilkerson from left field to center, replacing injured rookie Ryan Church, who experienced right groin tightness in Sunday's game. Terrmel Sledge started in left.

Robinson said Church likely could play tomorrow.

No `O Canada'

For the first time in the major league careers of Jose Vidro, Brian Schneider and other former Montreal Expos, they played in a regular-season game without hearing the Canadian national anthem.

"It's strange," Vidro said, "but having only one pre-game anthem has its positives."

"No disrespect, but in one way we felt in the past we had to get everything going 10 minutes before everybody else because there were two national anthems," Vidro said. "When we played in Puerto Rico, there were three national anthems. We definitely needed a head start in that country."

First pitch honor

Del Unser, who had two stints with the Phillies and played in the last game for the Washington Senators in 1971, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. He wore a replica 1971 Senators jersey.

Other firsts

Wilkerson picked up the first hit in Nationals history with a single to right. Johnson scored the first run on a Sledge groundout. Sledge hit the franchise's first homer, a two-run shot in the sixth.

Jose Guillen had the team's first strikeout and Philadelphia's Bobby Abreu was the Nationals' first strikeout victim.

Home away from home

Strangely, the last time a Washington team opened a season on the road also was in Philadelphia, when the old Senators, who were also known as the Nationals, faced the Athletics in 1951.

Washington's last major league game was Sept. 30, 1971, or according to the team's public relations staff, 12,240 days ago.

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