VIERA, Fla., March 31 -- Washington Nationals third baseman Vinny Castilla played for the first time in the 13 days since he suffered a hyperextended left knee, going hitless in three at-bats Thursday, but pronouncing himself healthy enough to play in the season opener Monday in Philadelphia.
"It feels good," Castilla said after the Nationals' 3-1 loss to the Florida Marlins. "I'm seeing the ball good. That's a good feeling. I swing at pitches good. I lay off tough pitches. That's how you want to be a few days before the season."
Nationals outfielder Terrmel Sledge beats the tag of Florida's Joe Dillon sliding back to first in Washington's 3-1 loss to the Marlins yesterday.
(John McDonnell -- The Washington Post)
Nationals officials believe Castilla has regained his bat speed. He hit the ball hard twice and said his knee is still a bit sore, "but it's a good soreness." He is 2 for 23 this spring and said he plans to play in the final three exhibition games.
"I don't need too many at-bats to get ready," he said. "If I get 20 or 30 at-bats before the season starts, I'll be all right."
Johnson Tries Leadoff
The latest National to get a shot at leading off? First baseman Nick Johnson, who said he had never hit in the spot. Johnson's career on-base percentage is .372 and he has never stolen more than six bases in a season.
"I'm not a speed-burner," Johnson said. "So [I'll] just try to get on there and get things going for the guys behind. I try to do that wherever I'm hitting."
The move is another indication of the Nationals' stagnant offense. They managed just six hits against Florida's Josh Beckett and have averaged 2.1 runs over their last nine games. "We're just not hitting," said Manager Frank Robinson, who added that Johnson will likely bat first Friday as well.
"I'm always concerned, yes," Robinson said. "When things are not going well or players are not going well, I'm concerned." . . .
Outfielder Terrmel Sledge was removed from the game after feeling tightness in his left calf muscle. Robinson called it "precautionary," and Sledge will be checked out again Friday. "Hopefully, it's not much," Sledge said. "It doesn't feel like much." . . .
Starter John Patterson allowed four hits in six innings, but two were homers. This spring, he went 0-3 with a 6.88 ERA, but he said afterward, "It's a good spring for me. I needed this." He will start April 10 against Florida.