Johnson's Poor Fielding Has Taken Shine Off His Year

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 11, 2006

DENVER, Sept. 10 -- By nearly all measures, Washington Nationals first baseman Nick Johnson is having a career year -- leading the National League in on-base percentage, flirting with hitting .300, already with career highs in homers, hits, doubles and games played.

But in one important aspect, Johnson is having a poor season, to say the least. Entering Sunday's game against the Colorado Rockies, Johnson was tied with Philadelphia's Ryan Howard for the most errors by a first baseman with 14. No one else in the majors has more than nine, and Johnson had never committed more than seven in a season. What's more, Johnson's fielding percentage of .988 is not only well below his previous career average of .993, but is the worst in the majors for a first baseman.

"I haven't been good," Johnson said. "Been terrible, really. I'm not thinking about it when I'm out there. I'm just trying to play."

Johnson realizes there is a trickle-down to his shoddy play that doesn't show up in the statistics. On Saturday night, for instance, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and shortstop Felipe Lopez were both charged with errors when they threw balls in the dirt that Johnson couldn't scoop.

"I got to pick up the guys," Johnson said. "It's my job."

Last year, when he made only five errors in 129 games at first, Johnson gained the reputation for being a well above-average defender. Manager Frank Robinson said players can have "off" defensive seasons, and added that first basemen can be the key to infield defense.

"That guy can save an awful lot of errors over the course of the season," he said. "He also builds the confidence of the infielders to basically really just get the ball close over there."

Robinson suggested that players can improve their fielding in the offseason by "getting back into shape" and working on flexibility.

Logan Likes Coors Field

Center fielder Nook Logan hit his first homer as a National in the third inning of Sunday's 13-9 loss to the Colorado Rockies. The solo shot to left off Jeff Francis was just Logan's second major league homer -- both have come at Coors Field.

"I don't know why that is," he said. . . .

Zimmerman buoyed his chances for the National League's rookie of the year award by going 4 for 5 with a double and two RBI. Zimmerman raised his average to .285 and now has 41 doubles and 95 RBI, most of any rookie. Florida second baseman Dan Uggla went 1 for 5 Sunday against Philadelphia, putting his average at .287. Uggla has 23 homers (to Zimmerman's 18), 25 doubles and 84 RBI.

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