VIERA, Fla. (AP) -Jim Bowden swiveled in his leather desk chair, stuffed his hands in the pockets of his blue track suit and smiled that Cheshire cat grin of his.
His Washington Nationals began reporting for spring training Friday, and Bowden was asked to assess the product he's put together.
``I think that they're ready to win more games than we lose,'' the general manager said, sitting in his office at Space Coast Stadium. ``Of course, that takes a lot of young players to step up, but I think they're capable of doing that.''
So much for the sort of expectation-lowering approach so popular back home inside the Beltway. This is a team, remember, that went 73-89 last season and has not finished above .500 since moving to Washington. And yet, at this point, why wouldn't things seem sunny?
After all, there already was one immediate piece of good news Friday: Nick Johnson, out all of last season with a broken leg, predicted he'll be set for opening day.
paused and corrected himself. ``I will be ready, let's put it that way.''
Pitchers and catchers were the only players required to check in with the team - Paul Lo Duca is expected to show up Saturday, Bowden said - but there was Johnson, out on a practice field fielding grounders, and in a batting cage taking some hacks.
Johnson pronounced himself fit and trim, saying he's lost about 25 pounds, and added that he sees no reason why he wouldn't be out on there with everyone else for the first full-squad workout next Friday.
``That's the plan. I don't know why I wouldn't be out there. Body feels good,'' Johnson said. ``Yeah, I plan on doing everything. No holding back.''
If he and Dmitri Young, who hit .320 last season as the starting first baseman, both are healthy, Bowden said one or the other could be traded.
``There's two quality guys there,'' Bowden said. ``I think, obviously, Dmitri starts at first. He has to. He played last year and was top seven in the league in hitting. But that doesn't mean by opening day, Nick Johnson's not the first baseman, either.''
There was more comforting news for Bowden a little later in the day, when right-handers Shawn Hill and John Patterson walked into the clubhouse. Both are potentially top-of-the-rotation starters on the team, and both feel better after operations in the fall.
scar tissue in his right elbow in September, then needed another procedure on his left shoulder in October.
What success the Nationals have could hinge on the health of starters such as Hill and Patterson.
``Going into the season, we should be thinking a little bit more positive. That should be in our sights. What did we have, 73 (victories) last year? I don't think we should be looking for 74, 75,'' Hill said. ``We should be looking for 81, 85, somewhere in there.''
After starting 2007 by going 9-25 under first-year manager Manny Acta, Washington was 64-64 the rest of the way. Bowden figures that was a sign of things to come.
``We're making a lot of progress,'' he said. ``Where we are, I don't think I can answer that yet until spring training's over.''
In a wide-ranging, 35-minute chat with reporters, Bowden touched on a variety of subjects:
-On whether he expects Lo Duca to be suspended because he was named in the Mitchell Report on drugs in baseball: ``I'm going to not comment on that question. I don't think it's appropriate for me to do. I know that entire situation's under review with the commissioner's office. ... I don't know the facts or the truth of that entire situation, so I leave it up to the people that do know those things.''
-On how the team's new stadium will play: ``I don't think we're going to know till we're there, and I think it's changing. Every day a building is built around that ballpark, I think it affects it. ... I know it's going to be more hitter-friendly than RFK. I also know it's going to be a pitcher's park. But beyond that, it's certainly not a Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Wrigley Field bandbox.''
-On the team's biggest question marks: ``First base, second base, shortstop, starting pitching.''
-On contract talks with third baseman Ryan Zimmerman: ``We plan on continuing to negotiate a long-term deal with him. We're going to do it all, as we've been doing the whole time, under the radar.''

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