Nationals Notebook

Finally Healthy, Washington's Nick Johnson Is Off to Hot Start

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 26, 2009

NEW YORK, April 25 -- Because he had missed roughly 90 percent of the previous two seasons with injuries, Nick Johnson, entering 2009, was planning to resume life as an everyday player with caution. Washington Nationals Manager Manny Acta spoke about the importance of resting his first baseman, of making certain Johnson didn't overdo it. Even now, almost three weeks into the season, Acta admits that "we're going to try to monitor him the best way possible."

But the early returns on Johnson's comeback have redirected the conversation. Washington needs Johnson, hitting .362 after Saturday's 1-for-4 effort, in the lineup. And Johnson says he doesn't need rest.

"No," Johnson said, shaking his head. "Nope, nope, nope."

On Saturday, in the same city where his two previous major injuries occurred -- a leg fracture in 2006, a wrist injury in 2008 -- Johnson started for the 14th time in 16 games. That consistency is partly attributable to the rash of early season off-days and rainouts. But it's also a credit to Johnson, who entered the day with the fifth-best average in the National League, and who is ripping the ball to all corners of the field. His home run on Friday night against New York Mets pitcher Johan Santana was a screaming liner down the left field line, an opposite field shot.

"I just think he's in a good position, and he's getting real comfortable with where he's at. I think power is a byproduct of comfort," Nationals hitting coach Rick Eckstein said. "He's got a good approach, and his ability to stay through a ball and use the whole field is tremendous."

Now that the Nationals begin an arduous stretch -- they don't have an off-day until May 14 -- Johnson will rest here and there. Acta plans to keep Johnson on the bench Sunday, when the Nationals face left-hander Oliver Pérez, who is tricky for left-handed batters.

"I'm going to give him the day off against Pérez," Acta said. "But, we need him in the lineup."

Young Is Getting Healthy

First baseman Dmitri Young remains at the team's spring training complex in Viera, Fla., but is getting closer to a rehab assignment -- probably a 20-day term with Class AAA Syracuse, acting general manager Mike Rizzo said. Young has struggled since the beginning of March with back problems. "Yeah, I think he's getting better," Rizzo said. "He played nine innings yesterday, so I think he's getting closer." . . .

Willie Harris and Cristian Guzmán both remain on target to come off the disabled list early this week, when the Nationals play the Phillies in Philadelphia.

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