PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla., March 18 -- When the Washington Nationals took the field Friday night at Tradition Field, nearly every regular was in the lineup. Jose Vidro, perhaps the most important of them all, was more than an hour away. Jamey Carroll, as he does whenever he's asked, trotted out to take Vidro's place at second base, as he does whenever someone on the Nationals goes down, whenever someone needs a break, whenever Manager Frank Robinson wants to change things up.
Vidro, the Nationals' three-time all-star, had an MRI exam of his hyperextended right elbow taken Friday afternoon, and didn't make the trip to face the New York Mets. The exam showed no further damage, and team physician Bruce Thomas said he expected Vidro -- who hasn't played since straining the elbow last Saturday -- to be ready to play some time early next week.
Starting second baseman Jose Vidro has missed much of spring training because of injuries.
(Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
"We're encouraged," Thomas said by phone Friday afternoon. "We'll give him anti-inflammatories, and be able to ramp up his activities gradually."
Standing at his locker in the Nationals' clubhouse at Space Coast Stadium in Viera earlier in the day, Vidro expressed concern about the injury. Already scheduled to come back slowly because he's rehabilitating a surgically repaired right knee, he has just six at-bats all spring. Vidro has yet to make a road trip, part of Robinson's plan to bring him along slowly and minimize any strain. Before taking the MRI exam, Vidro -- who has played hurt in the past -- said he desperately wants to be ready for Opening Day.
"At this stage [in my career], I know how to play hurt and how to play with something like this," Vidro said. "If it's not something major, I will play. I'm definitely going to play."
It's essential for Vidro to play, for he isn't some light-hitting second baseman who takes his turn late in the order and plays solid defense. He is penciled in to hit third for the Nationals. Last season, though hobbled by the right patella tendinitis that eventually led to the knee surgery, he hit .294, the first time in six full major league seasons he failed to hit .300.
Robinson, therefore, wants to begin getting Vidro more regular at-bats as soon as possible. Vidro hasn't worked regularly with his new double-play partner, shortstop Cristian Guzman, and he has appeared in just three games.
"I have eased him into it," Robinson said. "But there comes a time when you stop easing him into it."
As long as Vidro needs easing, Carroll will take his place. When Vidro ended his season early last year for the surgery, Carroll was there to play every day. That he hit .289 and had an on-base percentage of .378 was a bonus. He will sub for Guzman or Vidro, or third baseman Vinny Castilla. And when he doesn't play for four or five straight days, he won't make a peep.
"Every team needs a Jamey Carroll -- every team, every manager," Robinson said. "A guy that can play more than one position. A guy that's going to sit there and keep himself prepared to play when he's called upon. A guy that's not going to be in the manager's office asking, 'Why aren't I in the lineup?' "
This is not to say Robinson feels just as comfortable with Carroll as he does with Vidro, because it's not even close. Carroll has neither the pop (two career home runs) nor the experience (516 major league at-bats). But he has proven himself to be an important piece of the Nationals' picture because of the mixture of his ability and his attitude.
"That's the only way to be successful, is through hard work," Carroll said. "I think it's just your job. You should be ready. That's what I'm called upon to do."
Not that it's easy. Carroll, who grew up in Newburgh, Ind. -- just across the Ohio River from Kentucky -- is the product of blue-collar parents, the folks from whom he learned his work ethic, he said. But he turned 31 last month, and some day, he would like the chance to play every day.
"I have to have that confidence that I can do it, or I shouldn't be here," Carroll said. "My thing is I hope they have the confidence in me."
Heading into Friday's game, Carroll was hitting .318 with four doubles, and had an on-base percentage of .400. As long as Vidro is out -- the club hopes just a couple more days -- he will be out there.
"He's like a security blanket," Robinson said.
Only the Nationals, monitoring their second baseman's health, hope they don't have to use him every day.