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The Washington Nationals' 09 Outfield? The Dominican Winter League Championship Series and The Nationals' Future...

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The Washington Nationals' '09 Outfield...

Back on November 26th, I asked the federalbaseball.com readers, "Who Starts In The '09 DC Outfield? Left to Right", and 64 of the 155 votes cast placed Josh Willingham in left, Elijah Dukes in center and Lastings Milledge in right, with the second most votes, by far, 57 more of the remaining 91 votes, simply switching Dukes and Milledge, with those voters apparently sure that Milledge will figure things out after struggling in center late last season.

MLB.com's Bill Ladson weighed in today with an article entitled, "Nats' outfield situation: Outlook hazy", where Mr. Ladson first presents the Syracuse Chiefs with good news about their '09 outfield, which will consist of (according to Mr. Ladson's "baseball sources"), Justin Maxwell, Roger Bernadina and Leonard Davis, with the same sources claiming it will be Austin Kearns, Dukes, Milledge and Josh Willingham competing for playing time, with Willie Harris and Wily Mo Pena on the DC bench.

It's hard for me to imagine that Willingham won't play if his back's fully healed, or that the Washington Nationals, who haven't added any offense outside of "the Hammer", will leave Dukes' bat out of the lineup if he's healthy, and Mr. Ladson claims in his article that the Nationals' Manager Manny Acta, "...hinted that if the Nationals didn't acquire anyone better, Milledge would remain in center," while Mr. Ladson himself writes that, "...One thing is certain: Milledge will be in the lineup because of his bat," which doesn't bode well for Austin Kearns, who may start the '09 campaign on the bench.

When I checked the final results of the most recent poll at federalbaseball.com, which asked simply, "Who Plays CF in DC in '09?", readers overwhelmingly put Elijah Dukes in center with 77 of 126 votes in his favor, and 40 voters choosing Milledge. It was announced recently that the two young outfielders would compete for the starting job in center field, but of course every article about the Nationals these days would rather talk about Dukes' off field problems than discuss whether or not he'll be starting on Opening Day...

...when Mr. Ladson's article devolved into a discussion of Dukes' personal life, I picked up the latest newsstand edition of USA TODAY Sports Weekly, which promised on its cover an examination of the bullpens of successful teams around the league, and after finding no mention of the Nationals' closer "Wild" Joel Hanrahan or any of DC's relievers in the article, (Oh, "successful bullpen!"), I turned to the NL East section of their baseball coverage to find a bold headline and three-quarters of the column devoted to Dukes off-field activities...

Down with sensational Dukes news.

Dominican Winter League Championship Series....Best of 9.

Games 1 & 2...

The Tigres del Licey got off to a good start in the Dominican Winter League's 9 Game Championship series with a 3-2 win over the Gigantes del Cibao Tuesday night in which Anderson Hernandez and Ronnie Belliard produced the winning run in the Tigres' fifth on a leadoff single by Belliard and a one-out RBI single by Hernandez after former National-for-a-minute Emilio Bonifacio beat out a sac attempt to move Belliard into scoring position.

Wednesday night it took a comeback effort for Licey to earn a 9-7 win with 2 runs in the top of the tenth to take a 2-0 Series lead over Cibao. Nationals' and Tigres' starter Daniel Cabrera was out early, allowing 6 hits, 6 runs, 2 walks and a HR in just 2.2 IP. Anderson Hernandez finished the night 3 for 5 with his 10th postseason RBI. Ronnie Belliard finished the night 0 for 5 with an RBI on a groundout. Jesus Flores got the start Tuesday after Ronnie Paulino caught pitches for the Tigres on Monday. Flores was 1 for 4, making the most out of his one hit with a solo shot in the second. The winning run? It was Emilio Bonifacio.

Game Three tomorrow.

STRASBURG FILES...

Asked yesterday in an ESPN.com chat entitled, "Chat with Baseball America's Jim Callis", which '09 Draft pick might arrive at the Major League level first, Baseball America's Jim Callis responded:

"Actually, it's pretty easy. Stephen Strasburg of San Diego State is clearly the No. 1 talent in the draft and will move quickly. He was the lone collegian on the U.S. Olympic team last year."

Is it possible that by September of '09 DC could be throwing four pitchers: Strasburg, Collin Balester, John Lannan, and Jordan Zimmermann who are under 25 years of age...(at least until late September when Lannan officially turns the corner towards 30)? Later in the transcript, Mr. Callis reveals Jordan Zimmermann's ranking in the upcoming Baseball Prospects Handbook for 2009, as the 35th overall prospect in the Majors in Baseball America's opinion, as Mr. Callis answers a question about which other pitchers might be set for MLB debuts.

Will Jordan Zimmermann earn a starting spot?

eMb