Marrero still has restrictions when it comes to running, especially when rounding bases. But he has returned to full baseball activity otherwise, participating in full infield drills and taking batting with the team. Marrero hopes to play in extended spring training games in early April, which could land him in Class AAA Syracuse — or, depending on circumstance, the majors — sometime in May.

“I can’t complain,” Marrero said three days ago. “I’m a little bored watching games. I want to play, but I can’t complain.”

Marrero began this spring fielding grounders on his knees, running stairs and skipping rope. He may not be able to play in games, but simply practicing has been an upgrade.

“At least I get to do stuff with the team now,” Marrreo said.

The Nationals had been counting on Marrero, 23, as a key bench player coming off last season, when he held his own as a September call-up. When he tore his hamstring making a stretch during a Dominican winter league game, it spurred the Nationals to sign Mark DeRosa as insurance for Adam LaRoche.

With Michael Morse ailing and LaRoche slow to recover from a bone bruise in his left foot, Marrero’s return — and his ability to produce at a major league level — could loom large. The Nationals need more punch off the bench no matter how Morse progresses, and Marrero, ideally, could provide it.

If Morse, LaRoche or both miss significant time during the season, Marrero could step into a large role. The Nationals would first plug DeRosa into either left field or first base. After him, the onus could fall on Marrero after he returns.

Marrero has taken a winding path since the Nationals drafted him with the 15th overall pick in 2006. He broke his leg in 2008, just as he switched from outfield to first base. He has yet to duplicate the power he showed in 2006, when he hit 23 homers as an 18-year-old in Class A. He has not lived up to the potential others saw in him when Baseball America, in 2008, ranked him the 27th-best prospect in baseball.

But as his injury heals and the other ailments are cropping up all over the Nationals’ roster, Marrero could fill an important role surprisingly soon.


Michael Morse’s lingering lat strain has become the biggest worry out of a growing number of Nationals’ injuries.


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