VIERA, Fla. -- Five things to know about the Washington Nationals:
1. There's some pretty good young talent here just below the surface, and if the Nationals have their way, they'll get one more year out of a handful of veterans while that young talent is seasoned one more summer in the minors. Specifically, in Washington's best-laid plans, pitchers Matt Chico (7-9, 4.63 ERA in 31 starts) and John Lannan (2-2, 4.15 in six starts), who were force-fed in 2007, will pitch at Triple-A Columbus this season while Tim Redding and Odalis Perez earn rotation spots. Though that assumes Shawn Hill and John Patterson remain healthy, which is probably too big of an assumption.
2. Most-watched battle of camp is at first base, where Nick Johnson is raring to go after three operations on a badly broken leg caused him to miss all of 2007. Johnson and Dmitri Young, who signed a two-year, $10 million deal after an All-Star season in '07, are vying for one position with some unknowns attached to each. Johnson is moving well on the leg but won't play in back-to-back games until March 15. Young came into camp badly overweight -- he looks to be around 290 -- which he blames on diabetes issues. Manager Manny Acta was stunned at how well Johnson was moving when he first saw him this spring.
3. This is a team that, with any pitching at all, should improve on last summer's 73-89 record simply because there are more players here now. Of the two-deep infield depth chart, eight of the 10 Nationals have been All-Stars before: Catchers Paul Lo Duca and Johnny Estrada, Young at first, second basemen Bret Boone and Ronnie Belliard, shortstops Felipe Lopez and Cristian Guzman and third baseman Aaron Boone. The only non-All-Stars are a couple of pretty good players anyway: Johnson at first and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.
4. Think this club's hitters can't wait to take their hacks at brand new Nationals Park and leave hitter-unfriendly RFK Stadium to the dustbin of history? The Nats last season scored the fewest runs in the majors. The only sluggers who consistently conquered RFK were Alfonso Soriano and Frank Howard years ago. "We're excited, the fans are excited ... we're going to go from having the worst of everything to having the best of everything," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman says. Early reports from GM Jim Bowden and manager Manny Acta are that Nationals Park will play fair -- in other words, it will favor neither pitchers nor hitters (though it will be far better for hitters -- and worse for pitchers -- than RFK). Though the right-field fence is only 370 feet away, the wall is 12-feet high. It's 377 to left-center and 402 to dead center.
5. Manager Acta doesn't hesitate in fingering a key for '08: "I think Lastings Milledge is a key, putting a stop to our revolving door situation in center field. I have a lot of faith in him. The fact that we're going to have Wily Mo Pena in the lineup for a full season, Paul Lo Duca, Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez ... we should have a better year."