Lastings Milledge, acquired by the Washington Nationals from the New York Mets in an offseason trade for veteran catcher Brian Schneider and outfielder Ryan Church, returned to the lineup in late July after missing almost a month with a strained groin. Now he's continuing his mission to develop into one of the NL's top all-around players. Milledge is hitting .237 with seven homers, 34 RBIs and a team-high 13 stolen bases. He recently answered some questions from You recently returned from a right groin strain that cost you 20 games. How do you feel?

Milledge: It's good. It always feels good to be out there and playing. Now I'm just trying to help the team. How tough was it for you to sit out those three weeks?

Milledge: I'm one of those who finds it tough to be sidelined, but at the same time, I knew what I had to do to get back. You can't rush it, and that's hard because you want to get back out there. It's about coming back in the proper way. Can you characterize your season in general so far?

Milledge: It's been up and down. There have been some good points, and there have been some points where it's been a struggle. It's been about developing as a ballplayer, and I will go through ups and downs. It's about how you handle it all. What are some of the good points for you?

Milledge: Being a little more patient at the plate than I was last year, usually. I have drawn some more walks, my two-strike hitting has been better and I have more base hits to right field. Those are the ups and they are some of the things you have to do to become a great hitter in this league. What have you changed to go to right field more often?

Milledge: It comes as you get more mature in this game. A lot of people can tell you a lot of things, but you actually have to go out and apply it. When you get older, you know more what you have to do. You also change your approach a lot. When you're a younger player, you're a little more stubborn about change. You've grown up being one of the best players on all your teams, and you've always hit third. As you mature, and you're no longer a prospect, you start to get a more mature state of mind. You have transitioned to center field this year. How is that going?

Milledge: In the beginning, it was tough for me. I took a lot of bad routes, mainly because I wasn't comfortable there. I hadn't played there in awhile. As the season has gone along, I've gotten better out there. I'm running down more balls and getting to some balls that seemed to fall for hits earlier in the year. I feel like I've played great defense the last four to six weeks. You have also transitioned to a new team, a new clubhouse. How do you like it here, and how do you like your new teammates?

Milledge: Everybody is good; everybody is good here. We're not winning as much as we would like, but the clubhouse has been the same. We're the same today as when we jumped out 3-0 to start and thought we could be one of the top teams in the NL East. All we can do is keep coming out and working as hard as we can and keep playing as hard as we can. At the end of every game, there has to be a winner and a loser. Unfortunately, we've been losing a bit. But the attitude has been the same. You are one of several good young players on this team. What would it mean to you to be part of this club when it turns things around?

Milledge: It's important, but at the same time, we have to get the job done now. There is really no time to say we're young, and we're developing. Sometimes you don't have the opportunity ahead of you. You have to take every day like it's your last, and you have to prove yourself day in and day out. It's important to be part of this now because we're only a few players away. The NL East looks like a three-team race between the Phillies, Marlins and your former club, the Mets. How do you think it will finish out this year?

Milledge: I don't know. You never know. A lot of teams can fall off in the end. It might come down to the last three days. We fell off last year when I was with the Mets. We fell off in the last week, and we were supposed to win. Saying that, you just don't know who can win. The Braves could up and snatch the NL East. You just don't know.

Jeff Moeller is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.