The Washington Nationals yesterday designated first baseman Wil Cordero for assignment, essentially cutting the veteran pinch hitter, and replaced him with outfielder Kenny Kelly, a former quarterback at the University of Miami who was waived by the Cincinnati Reds.

Though Nationals Manager Frank Robinson was Cordero's most ardent supporter -- cutting him was "like letting a family member go," Robinson said -- the numbers became too much to keep him. Cordero was hitting just .118, was 0 for 14 as a pinch hitter and 0 for 18 with runners in scoring position. He had two RBI in 51 at-bats.

"At the end of the day, you have to make decisions with your head, not your heart, if you want to win," General Manager Jim Bowden said. "There are times you have to make decisions on your 25th guy, and maybe improve your team by inches and not by feet."

Cordero, who missed nearly two months after having surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee, said he was disappointed, but understood.

"I didn't do my job," he said. "I didn't do it. But when you come back from surgery, it's very difficult to say that you come back healthy, 100 percent, because you're not. But that's not an excuse. I didn't do my job, so they got to bring in somebody else."

Kelly, who was used a pinch runner in the ninth last night, had just nine at-bats with the Reds this year, but hit .326 with 9 doubles, 3 homers, 17 RBI and 18 stolen bases in 61 games with Class AAA Louisville. He likely will be used by the Nationals as a pinch runner, freeing Robinson to make more moves late in games. Kelly likely will be outrighted to the minors when first baseman Nick Johnson comes back from his injured heel.

The Nationals also removed two minor league pitchers -- Joe Horgan and Jacobo Sequea -- from the 40-man roster, meaning the club has three open spots that could be filled by more waiver claims or through a trade. Two club sources, though, said they don't feel anything is imminent.

Bowden continues to try to talk former Cincinnati shortstop Barry Larkin into returning to play for the Nationals. To this point, he has been unsuccessful.

Johnson Hits

Johnson took batting practice yesterday for the first time since suffering a deep bruise of his right heel on June 26, and the reports were good. "The pain will never be gone," Johnson said, "but I can deal with that."

Johnson said he held nothing back. He also took ground balls. "I'm just looking for normal movement, for him not to be favoring anything," hitting coach Tom McCraw said. "That's what I saw."