Off to an 0-7 start this season after finishing with a majors-high 102 losses in 2008, the Nationals optioned their starting center fielder to Triple-A Syracuse on Tuesday. Milledge was hitting .167 with no extra-base hits, one RBI, one walk and 10 strikeouts atop the batting order.
"He is still a work-in-progress as a leadoff man," assistant general manager Mike Rizzo said during a conference call.
"This is certainly a message that we need for players to perform," Rizzo said. "We need for players to adapt to the major leagues, and we need players to succeed."
The Nationals acquired Milledge from the New York Mets in November 2007 for outfielder Ryan Church and catcher Brian Schneider. Milledge played in 138 games last season, often hitting in the middle of the lineup, and batted .268 while tying for the team lead with 14 homers and leading outright in RBIs with 61.
Rizzo, who essentially is serving as Washington's GM after Jim Bowden's resignation, said the Nationals will wait until Wednesday to replace Milledge on the active roster. The team was off Tuesday before hosting the Philadelphia Phillies.
Nationals manager Manny Acta, a strident supporter of Milledge, declined to comment.
Elijah Dukes is expected to take over as the everyday center fielder, although Milledge's demotion eases the team's glut of outfielders and should translate to more playing time for Josh Willingham, too.
Dukes is hitting .381 with a homer, two doubles and five RBIs so far.
In addition to his problems at the plate this season, Milledge has had his share of adventures in center field already, although he hasn't been charged with an error.
"We've all seen the struggles that he's had adjusting to a new position in the batting order, being leadoff, and adjusting to being an everyday center fielder in the big leagues," Rizzo said. "That was the reason we sent him down -- to get more comfortable with his swing, to get more comfortable with the position and to do it in a less stressful situation than the National League East."
Rizzo said he isn't sure how long Milledge will stay in the minors. Milledge will mostly play center at Syracuse but also will spend time at the corner outfield positions.
"He certainly wasn't glad that he was going down to Triple A," Rizzo said. "But he took it like a professional."
SS Cristian Guzman's strained left hamstring will be re-evaluated Wednesday. "He's day-to-day until deemed otherwise," Rizzo said. Guzman was hurt running out a single in the ninth inning of Monday's 9-8 loss to Philadelphia, his fifth hit of the game.