VIERA, Fla. -- Catcher Brian Schneider has played for the Nationals/Expos since the 2000 season. For most of that time, he has been the team's everyday catcher and representative when it came to union matters.
But Schneider will have a different role on the team in 2007. Manager Manny Acta placed a call to Schneider this offseason and the skipper wants Schneider to be a leader behind the plate and in the clubhouse. In the past,
Schneider was reluctant to voice his opinions because the team had its share of strong personalities. This year, he says, will be a different story.
Schneider's role behind the plate will be tougher than ever. He is being asked to guide a starting staff that is considered by many to be suspect. After John Patterson, it's anybody's guess who will be in the rotation.
"I'm excited [about the new leadership role]," Schneider said. "In the past, there were a lot of older, veteran guys and sometimes it's tough to voice your opinion. It's not like that this year. I think it's going to be a great
clubhouse. People are going to be able to voice their opinions. I'm looking forward to being one of the leaders. Every team needs one. I'm not saying I'm going to be the guy. There are going to be a bunch of leaders on the
team this year."
If the last two months of the 2006 season were any indication, Schneider is expected to be productive with the bat. After a slow start, the left-handed hitting Schneider went 44-for-136 (.324) with a home run and 21 RBIs in his
last 42 games and ended the season with a .256 batting average. He said placing the ball to left field and not trying to hit home runs was the reason for his success during the final two months.
"I changed up my stance a little bit, which helped out. Even [former manager] Frank [Robinson] said the key was hitting to left field," Schneider said. "The last two months of the season, I kind of got away from the mentality of power. You have to find your game. The last two months of the season, I didn't think about power one time. All I thought about was hitting the ball to left field, getting base hits and driving guys in. And as you can see, that's when I got a lot of my RBIs. That was really helpful for the team."
Back to work: Reliever Luis Ayala, who is sporting a beard for the first time in his Major League career, worked out at the Carl Barger Complex on Monday. He missed all of 2006 because of elbow reconstruction surgery, but he said that he will be ready to pitch this season.
Ayala, who was Washington's top setup man from 2003-05, started throwing on the mound a month ago. He has thrown no more than 25 pitches in a bullpen session. In fact, Acta called Ayala on Sunday to inform Ayala that the team will take it slowly with him during Spring Training. Ayala accepted
the Nationals' plans for him.
"I feel great," Ayala said. "I'm ready to start Spring Training. I need a little bit of time to make my location. I need to throw more bullpens."
A clear head: Closer Chad Cordero arrived in Florida on Sunday night and he said he wasn't thinking about the possibility of being traded during Spring Training. Since December, Cordero's name has been mentioned in trade
talks. The Nationals want young starting pitching in return. The Red Sox are the team that has been often linked to Cordero.
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"I'm just thinking normal thoughts just like the last couple of years," Cordero said. "I'm just trying to get ready for the season. I'm not worried about anything. If something happens, it happens. It's just part of the game."
Sign here: The Nationals agreed to terms with outfielder Nook Logan on a 2007 contract on Monday. Logan, who was acquired from Detroit for cash considerations on Sept. 1, started 25 games in center field and hit .300
with 13 runs scored.
A meeting of the minds: Right-hander John Patterson had his arbitration hearing in Phoenix on Monday. Patterson is looking to make $1.85 million, but the Nats offered $850,000. A decision most likely will not be reached until Tuesday.
Did you know? The Nationals went 31-35 after the Lerner Group took over the team on July 21.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.