In a 2/13/09 article by MLB.com's Bill Ladson entitled, "Nats' corner outfield spots up for grabs", Washington Nationals' Manager Manny Acta emphatically stated that while the corner outfield spots were up for grabs with Josh Willingham, Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns and Elijah Dukes battling it out for the starting spots, there was no decision to made in Spring Training as to who would play center field in DC this season:
"We have a center fielder,' Acta said. 'Lastings played the whole season there last year.'"
As far back as October '08, after Milledge had drawn quite a bit of unwanted attention with his approach to the position, Washington Post writer Chico Harlan, in a Nationals Notebook article entitled, "Milledge May Be Placed in Corner for '09", (with the Former DC GM Jim Bowden stating publicly, as Mr. Harlan wrote, "...that the Nationals would explore a position change in the outfield 'to upgrade our defense,'") the Nationals' Manager was resolute, according to Mr. Harlan, who noted that, "Manny Acta has often defended Milledge's outfield play this season."
After it was announced this afternoon that Lastings Milledge had been optioned to Triple-A Syracuse after some more shaky play in the field and a lack of patience or production at the plate in the first few games of the season, neither MLB.com's Bill Ladson's article on the move entitled, "MIlledge demoted to Triple-A", or the Washington Post's article by Chico Harlan entitled, "Milledge Optioned To Class AAA Syracuse", (ed. note - "Yeah, old school 'Class AAA', nice"), had any comments from DC Manager Manny Acta at all, instead it was "Acting" GM Mike Rizzo who spoke to the press, telling Mr. Ladson, that Milledge:
"'...took the demotion like a professional,' Rizzo said. "We had a good dialogue about a lot of things. He was unhappy and eager to show me that he belongs in the Major Leagues. Lastings Milledge plays extremely hard. I have very little problems with Lastings' attitude and his work ethic.'"
Mr. Rizzo's remarks about "Lastings' attitude and his work ethic" seem to be a direct response to comments in an eerily prescient article by Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell entitled, "It's Time To Get Serious", in which Mr. Boswell wrote, after the home opener, of the goings-on inside the Nationals' locker room, where, Mr. Boswell noted:
"...the Nationals are tired of Lastings Milledge, their 24-year-old outfielder, acting like a 10-year veteran who has earned a central position in their locker room, when, in fact, he has accomplished very little."
But it was Mr. Boswell's comments about an impending move that had the Natosphere abuzz today with a lot of, "He must have known" speculation after Milledge was actually optioned, as Mr. Boswell had written well before the official announcement:
"So don't be surprised if, fairly soon, the Nats' clogged outfield problem is solved, at least temporarily, in an unexpected way: by sending Milledge back to the minor leagues."
Milledge's comments? In MLB.com's Bill Ladson's article entitled, "Milledge demoted to Triple-A", Mr. Ladson talks to a surprised Milledge on the phone who states:
"'It was a shocker,' Milledge said via telephone. 'I thought I would be given more than 24 at-bats [to get it going]. Mike is the boss, so he has to do what was best for the team. He told me I needed to work on my hitting and defense.'"
As of now, Elijah Dukes will assume the everyday duties in center field, and the speculation in Mr. Ladson's article is that OF Roger Bernadina will be called up from Syracuse to take Milledge's roster spot along with IF Alex Cintron, whose presence is necessitated by the injury Cristian Guzman suffered at the end of the home opener Monday, which is being reported as a hamstring "strain"...
Have we seen the last of "Leadoff Lasto"? Does he jump to the top of the to-be-traded list? Or does getting demoted by the 0-7 Nationals destroy any value a player might have in other team's eyes? Can Dukes stay healthy? Can Bernadina shed the AAAA label? Will the Washington Nationals ever win? (ed. note - "Shouldn't have gone with the Spring Training #, Lasto.")
(ed. note - "For another opinion on the Nationals' decision to send Milledge to Syracuse, check out this article from Mike Silva's NY Baseball Digest entitled, "Milledge Following the Path of Ryan Thompson".)
(another ed. note - "On another OF-related topic):
He Said It Not Me...
MLB.com's Bill Ladson, in the most recent edition of his weekly Q&A feature entitled, "Inbox: When will Zimmermann arrive?", when asked if Adam Dunn was the worst fielding outfielder he'd ever seen, responds by stating:
"There is no question that Dunn is a below-average fielder, and it would be nice for him to get to Nationals Park early before games and work on his defense."