The Nationals this morning sent Corey Brown to minor league camp, ending a frustrating first Nationals spring training for the minor league outfielder they acquired this winter, along with reliever Henry Rodriguez, when they traded Josh Willingham to the Oakland A’s.

Brown, 25, appeared in only two games before spraining his left ankle while sliding into home plate. While there’s no timetable for when he can return to game action, he has made some progress. Brown hopes to avoid staying in Viera for extended spring training. If he does, Brown will start the season in Class AAA Syracuse with an eye on reaching the majors at some point in 2011.

“Hopefully, I’ll get a call-up at some point this year,” Brown said. “That’s my plan. It seems like that might be somebody else’s plan, too. For them to trade Willingham for me and Rodriguez, that’s kind of saying something.”

Brown received only three at-bats this spring before he scampered home from third on an infield groundball and slid into the catcher. His ankle made rapid progress, the swelling decreasing quickly, but then stalled. Brown hasn’t had any setbacks, just not much recent improvement. He’ll be careful not rush back. In 2009, he returned quickly from a bout with patellar tendonitis and wound up on the disabled list three times.

Brown saw today’s cut coming, and he was happy to spend as much time as he did with his new teammates in major league camp. He was frustrated by not playing – “you want to show them what they traded for,” he said – but he praised the Nationals for how they handled him.

“I knew my time was coming,” Brown said. “I’m not coming in here thinking I was going to make the team. It was a great experience for it was. They treat you like they’ve been here.”

Last season, Brown hit .320/.415/.502 with 10 home runs in 90 games at Class AA Midland. He struggled a bit when moved to Class AAA Sacramento, hitting .193/.253/.378 with five home runs in 41 games. When the Nationals acquired Brown, General Manager Mike Rizzo said a slow acclimation to a new level, followed by a surge of success, had been typical during Brown’s career progression.