The Marlon Byrd that the Nationals sent to the minor leagues July 31 hit .243 for Washington and had precious little pop in his bat. The Marlon Byrd that spent nearly a month with Class AAA New Orleans figured a few things out. The Marlon Byrd that returned to the Nationals last week appears to be a completely different hitter.

"I told him, 'Those are probably going to be the best 30 days you've ever spent in your career,' " hitting coach Tom McCraw said.

Byrd didn't disagree. "I figured some things out," he said. It's showing. Before last night's game against Florida, Byrd was hitting .407 and slugging .704 since being called up Aug. 25. Most impressive is his new-found pop, which has shown itself in five extra-base hits in just 27 at-bats. During his first stint with the Nationals, he had eight extra-base hits in 144 at-bats.

"He was hitting in sections," McCraw said. "He had to get a rhythm, a flow, to his movement."

Byrd said working with Mitchell Page, the Nationals' roving minor league hitting instructor, helped enormously.

"I didn't want to go down there, but the time there helped," he said. "I'm more comfortable."

Johnson, Vidro on the Mend

First baseman Nick Johnson (bruised heel) and second baseman Jose Vidro (inflamed right knee) took batting practice and fielded ground balls yesterday. Vidro, surprisingly, appeared in the fourth inning as a pinch hitter, popping up with runners on first and second. He said he would likely wait through the weekend to determine when he can play in the field.

Johnson's injury bothers him when he sprints. He will take pain medicine to try to "calm it down," he said, but isn't sure when he'll return.

Hurricane Relief

The Nationals will take part in Major League Baseball's effort to help provide relief to victims of Hurricane Katrina at tonight's game. Fans will be asked for donations as they enter the seating bowl at RFK Stadium. The team is working on plans to provide tickets to evacuees who are staying at the nearby D.C. Armory.