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Nationals commit to Kearns in outfield page 2
Nationals re-sign Austin Kearns

 Kearns
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Date published: 2/2/2007

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Kearns was acquired with infielder Felipe Lopez and reliever Ryan Wagner July 13 in an eight-player deal that sent shortstop Royce Clayton, relievers Bill Bray and Gary Majewski and two minor leaguers to the Reds.

Bowden, who drafted Kearns while he was the general manager of the Reds in 1998, long coveted the outfielder, who battled injuries during the early part of his career in Cincinnati.

He stayed mostly injury-free last season and played in a career-high 150 games, registering career-bests in home runs (24), RBIs (86), and doubles (33).

However, he struggled a bit with the change in Washington, both with the city and with a new position. He played center field for four games after the trade before moving back to right field, and slumped at the plate, going 6-for-30 in his first nine games.

In 63 games following the trade, he hit .250 with eight homers and 36 RBIs, though he contributed several game-winning hits and impressed team officials with his arm and range in right field.

"This is a player that is very strong, has the ability to drive in runs, move the runners over, hit the ball out of the ballpark," Bowden said. "His best years are ahead of him. His prime just starts now."

The exact height of Kearns' potential remains unclear.

He has never played a full season without an injury or the distraction of a major trade, but it's clear that the Nationals are counting on big things.

With Johnson expected to miss at least the first month of the season with a broken right femur, Kearns will hit fourth in the Nationals' lineup, incoming manager Manny Acta said yesterday. When Johnson returns, Acta said Kearns would likely hit fifth.

"Contract or no contract I was expecting big things out of Kearns: minimum 25 homers and 100-plus RBIs. He is capable of doing that. He is a guy who I have always admired and feared from the other side," said Acta, who spent the last two seasons as the Mets' third base coach.

With the start of spring training looming in less than two weeks, Kearns sounded ready to get started.

"I don't think people actually realize the talent that is already here and how close this thing can get to be where we want it," he said. "I am looking forward to it and just excited about being here and the direction it's going."

Todd Jacobson: 540/735-
Email: 1974tjacobson@freelancestar.com


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