Johnson's Year Ends With Wrist Surgery

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Nick Johnson delivered the epitaph for his 2008 season by text message.

"I need surgery on my wrist," he wrote to teammate Paul Lo Duca.

Lo Duca responded much like others yesterday in the Washington Nationals' clubhouse when they learned that Johnson, their first baseman and regular No. 4 hitter, will miss the rest of the season while recovering from a right wrist injury.

"You've got to be kidding me," Lo Duca wrote back.

Johnson's susceptibility to injuries has become an absurd predictability, and the lament of his career. Arthroscopic surgery performed yesterday by Richard Berger, a hand and wrist specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., determined the worst-case scenario for a player who has spent just one full season away from the disabled list. During the procedure, Berger repaired a small tear in a ligament in Johnson's wrist.

General Manager Jim Bowden said that Johnson, who batted .220 this season with a .415 on-base percentage, should be fully recovered by spring training 2009.

"I feel bad for Nick," Bowden said. "He's had a tough career of injuries, and it's almost amazing. But it's what's happened this year to our club. We have to overcome it. He'll work hard, we'll get him rehabbed and hopefully he'll be 100 percent by spring training."

When Johnson injured his wrist during a swing on May 13 against the New York Mets, he received an optimistic timetable for recovery. Doctors believed he could return within four to six weeks.

But then, in a style typical to Johnson's career, he dealt with setbacks. He wore a cast for about four weeks, which did little to heal the injury. Concerned about the lingering soreness, Johnson traveled to the Mayo Clinic, where again, his season ended at a medical facility.

"It's a just bunch of freak accidents," teammate Ryan Zimmerman said. "It's just weird."

"And he worked so hard to get back from a devastating injury," said Dmitri Young, who has replaced Johnson both at first base and in the cleanup spot.

On Sept. 23, 2006, just weeks from finishing his first fully healthy season, Johnson collided in the eighth inning of a game against the New York Mets with right fielder Austin Kearns. Johnson fractured his right femur. After surgery was performed later that night, the team offered its prognosis: Johnson, the Nationals said, would be healthy for 2007.

But by spring training, Johnson was still hobbling. He had two subsequent surgeries that year and missed the entire season, only resuming batting practice on July 31.

His full recovery from that femur injury had formed the framework for Johnson's optimism this season. During spring training, with his sharp batting eye still intact, he won the first baseman's job from Young. Bowden, speaking in March, said he was "pleasantly surprised" by Johnson's progress.

But months later, the tale of premature endings and delayed recoveries would play out as a sequel.

"I feel bad for Nick, because I know how much Nick loves to play and how important he is to our ballclub," Manager Manny Acta said. "He loves to play. He's the ultimate professional. He's up early, he leaves late. He breathes baseball. That's why I feel so bad."

Asked where his team will feel the greatest loss, Acta said: "Everywhere. I mean, everywhere. Here is a guy who was hitting .220 but had a .415 on-base percentage. I mean, there is not one thing you can pick when he's healthy. Because even when he's not hitting he's getting on base four out of 10 times. Defensively he was brilliant this year, and his clubhouse presence -- he's a very quiet guy, but he leads by example. So we're going to miss him overall."

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