Nats get to work at camp

Nats camp opens with special eye on rotation

VIERA, Fla. -- Pitchers and catchers reported to Space Coast Stadium on Tuesday morning, kicking off the third season of the Washington Nationals and the first full year the team will be owned by the Lerner Group.

Led by team president Stan Kasten and general manager Jim Bowden, the Nationals made changes during the offseason in hopes of making them better. For starters, the organization felt they needed new leadership on the field, so they hired Manny Acta, 38, as the second manager in their history.

Most experts are predicting that Acta's first season will be a tough one, but he doesn't want to hear such negative talk and believes the team will be competitive throughout the season.

"I believe a good attitude is contagious. That's the way I am," Acta said. "That does not mean I'm going to be laughing in the dugout when we are losing. You guys will notice right away that when I manage a ballgame, I'm a totally different guy.

"It's trying to make an environment where people want to be here, enjoy coming to work and enjoy doing what we are trying to do. We are trying to make this team better. That's what it's all about."

The enthusiasm already has rubbed off on the players. Pitchers such as Shawn Hill, Jerome Williams, Jason Simontacchi and Billy Traber were already in camp before the reporting date, and catcher Brian Schneider was seen taking batting practice on Monday morning. Position players are not supposed to report to camp until later in the week, but third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and outfielder Ryan Church worked out on Tuesday.

"I think everyone is excited," Schneider said. "I got to see Manny this morning and all the coaches. It's now official. Spring Training is here."

Acta will field a much younger team, and it meant trading veteran second baseman Jose Vidro for two prospects -- outfielder Chris Snelling and right-hander Emiliano Fruto -- and letting Jose Guillen and Alfonso Soriano become free agents who signed with the Mariners and Cubs, respectively.

Now the team will rely heavily on players such as Zimmerman, Schneider, Austin Kearns, Nook Logan and Felipe Lopez. None of them are over 30 years of age.

The big issue in camp will be the starting pitching. After right-hander John Patterson, it's anybody's guess who will be in the rotation. There are at least 12 pitchers vying for the spots.

"Hopefully, we can all compete for that spot," Williams said. "Hopefully, we can come out with something to show for it and make that rotation."

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