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Notes: Hill a bright spot in opener

Notes: Hill a bright spot in Nats' opener

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- The Manny Acta era began on Friday afternoon with the Nationals falling to the Dodgers, 12-7, at Holman Stadium.

Acta was not pleased with his club's defense and mistakes on the basepaths. The team committed two errors and could have been charged for more. Also, Alex Escobar and Nook Logan were thrown out on the bases.

"We gave away outs and that's what we have been stressing all spring," Acta said. "When you have to make over 27 outs and give [the opposing team] outs on the bases, it's going to cost you."

There were some positives, however. The team was productive with the bats, collecting 11 hits, and starter Shawn Hill pitched well in his two innings on the mound. He gave up two hits and two unearned runs.

"Overall, I felt good," Hill said. "I was little jittery in the first outing. I was trying to get ahead of myself. I worked too fast. I had one or two pitches that were up, but I can't complain."

Not bad: Felipe Lopez played his first exhibition game at second base, and he made one putout and two assists at his new position.

His toughest assist came in the second inning. Wilson Betemit hit a chopper to Lopez's right, but Lopez grabbed the ball and threw to first baseman Larry Broadway for the putout.

"I felt a little weird at second, as far as where to position myself with certain hitters and stuff," Lopez said. "That's something I will pick up just by playing more games."

High expectations: Acta said it is time for catcher Brian Schneider to take charge behind the plate. He no longer has veterans such as Livan Hernandez or Ramon Ortiz overruling him when it comes to calling a ballgame.

Acta also expects Schneider to be much better with bat. The skipper is banking on Schneider to hit like he did in his final 42 games of the 2006 season, during which he hit .324 with a home run and 21 RBIs. In fact, Acta is anticipating Schneider to drive in more than 55 runs this season.

"Since the beginning of Spring Training, Brian has swung the bat pretty good," Acta said. "I'm looking for him to separate himself from the .250 to .260 range and become a .280 type of guy."

On Friday, Schneider went 0-for-2, but he walked in the second inning.

Starting to lead: Outfielder Austin Kearns has taken his new leadership role to heart. He has taken outfielder Michael Restovich under his wing. The two have known each other since playing together in the Arizona Fall League several years ago.

Restovich, who is often seen near Kearns' locker, is trying to make the team as a power-hitting outfielder off the bench.

"When he signed over here, I was pretty happy," Kearns said. "He is a good dude. I don't think he gotten a fair shot in the big leagues. Hopefully, he does here."

Restovich said is already relaxed in the clubhouse, thanks to Kearns.

"He introduces you to people," Restovich said. "All of sudden, [you] are starting to know the guys. It makes the transition a lot easier."

Death in the family: Reliever Chris Schroder was scheduled to be the last pitcher to work in Friday's game against the Dodgers, but he entered the game in the fifth inning because he had to catch an afternoon flight to Oklahoma City to attend his grandmother's funeral.

Schroder, who gave up three runs in one inning, is expected to return to the team on Sunday.

On the job: Commissioner Bud Selig announced on Friday that former Nationals manager Frank Robinson will rejoin the Commissioner's Office as a special advisor to Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, effective Monday. Robinson was MLB's vice president of on-field operations earlier in the decade.

The Nationals were hoping that Robinson would come to Spring Training as an non-paid instructor and to have a Frank Robinson Day on May 20 against the Orioles, but Robinson declined both offers. Washington has left it open for a day to honor Robinson in the future.

General manager Jim Bowden talked to Robinson earlier in the week and told him the door would remain open to visit the Nationals. Robinson said he would keep it in mind.

"We are very happy that Frank is back with Commissioner's Office," Bowden said. "Frank has a tremendous wealth of knowledge in this game."

Let's talk: Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said that his agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, will arrive in Viera, Fla., on Saturday to prepare for talks about Zimmerman's contract with Bowden and team president Stan Kasten on Sunday.

Zimmerman has less than three years of service time and the Nationals can automatically renew his contract before the March 11 deadline, but Zimmerman feels a deal will get done.

"I think we will have something done by the end of the weekend, or at least have an idea what we are going to do," Zimmerman said. "I'll probably know more on Sunday."

Zimmerman said he would like a multi-year deal, which would allow him to avoid arbitration.

"They know I want to be here," he said. "I like all the guys here and I'm from [Virginia]. It would be a great thing for me and the organization."

More on Zimmerman: Zimmerman is expected to play in the next two games and then have the day off on Monday against the Braves. Zimmerman went 2-for-3, including a two-run homer in the fourth inning off left-hander Mark Hendrickson.

Injury report: Escobar threw from 105 feet in the outfield and didn't feel any pain. He was the designated hitter on Friday and went 1-for-3.

Be a part of the mailbag: The Nationals mailbag runs every Monday. Send in your questions now.

Coming up: The Nationals return to Space Coast Stadium to play the Orioles on Saturday afternoon at 1:05 ET. Right-hander John Patterson will make the start for Washington, while right-hander Daniel Cabrera will get the nod for Baltimore.

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

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