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BY RICH CAMPBELL
JUPITER, Fla.--Washington Nationals left-hander Odalis Perez declared himself ready to take the mound for Opening Night at Nationals Park on Sunday after surrendering three runs on seven hits, a walk and five strikeouts in six innings during yesterday's 3-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.
The score probably would have been closer if Nationals left fielder Rob Mackowiak hadn't lost a fly ball in the sun in the sixth inning. That allowed runners to reach second and third with no outs, and Albert Pujols followed with a two-RBI single.
"It was a good one," Perez said. "If you see the score, the score might not be the result. I felt great. I threw the ball great. I threw all of my pitches. I'm ready to go."
Perez was limited to three Grapefruit League starts this spring because of visa issues. He went 0-2 with a 4.69 ERA in 16 innings and gave up nine runs on 16 hits, walked three and struck out 11. He also pitched in several minor league games.
"I'm confident," Perez said. "The opportunity I'm getting here, there's no way for you not to take it. I'm taking it with attitude. I want to go out there and I want to win."
Pena feeling better
Left fielder Wily Mo Pena (torn left oblique muscle) is recovering quicker than the team originally expected.
"The four to six weeks, who knows? It maybe can turn into three to five or a legit four," manager Manny Acta said. "He's starting to do some things, but we're taking it easy. We don't want to get overly excited with him and push him too much, but he's doing better than expected."
Pena suffered a partial tear of the muscle on Mar. 12, and he will begin the season on the 15-day disabled list. However, he and other players on the disabled list (currently Shawn Hill and Ryan Wagner) will travel with the team to Washington for the weekend's festivities at Nationals Park.
"They deserve to be there," Acta said.
First baseman Dmitri Young stayed in Viera yesterday to get at-bats in a minor league game. Manager Manny Acta said Young's back has been stiff lately, but it's not serious enough to land him on the disabled list just yet, Acta said.
Right-hander Tim Redding (back spasms) was examined by a doctor and played catch yesterday, and he felt better than expected, Acta said. He is on schedule to start a minor league game on Friday.
Left fielder Elijah Dukes also did not make the two-hour trip from Viera to Jupiter. He was given the day off to rest his right hamstring, and he will not travel to Kissimmee for tomorrow's game against the Braves.
The Nationals have scored only 14 runs in their last six games, but Acta said he is not concerned.
"Everyone looks at the scores down here and thinks we're not scoring runs," Ryan Zimmerman said, "but they don't realize that we haven't really had our whole team together [because of injuries]."
The final capacity for Nationals Park this season is 41,888, the team announced. The definitive seat count was carried out over the weekend.
First baseman Nick Johnson had lightning bolts shaved into the right side of his head in response to an Internet poll. His hair is cut extremely short on the sides and is still somewhat shaggy on top, creating the appearance of a semi-mohawk. He is also sporting a rat-tail in the back.
Rich Campbell: 540/735-1974