(Jonathan Newton/WASHINGTON POST)

“We’re just going to play it day by day,” Johnson said. “If he doesn’t get some at-bats the last couple days, we might have to re-evaluate, just to be on the safe side. Maybe give him some at-bats” in a minor league rehab game.

Ankiel had experienced swelling in his quad, Johnson said, but that has dissipated. The quadriceps has hampered Ankiel all spring. He did not play from March 9 through 20. He then played four out of five days, but “I had a little flare-up,” Ankiel said.

In limited action, Ankiel had used a more relaxed approach that allowed him to smack the ball to all fields. He went 4 for 15 with a home run, a triple and three walks. Ankiel has been taking soft swings and doing rehab in a pool. He feels comfortable enough with his swing, he said, but will not rush back merely to play April 5 in Chicago.

“I don’t think you ever want to put yourself in a position to miss more time than needed,” Ankiel said. “I think you take the time to get it right and move from there.”

If Ankiel started the year on the disabled list, he would be eligible to return April 11. Without Ankiel, the Nationals would have to choose another starting center fielder between Roger Bernadina and Brett Carroll or moving Jayson Werth from right to center.

“I’m not going there yet,” Johnson said. “Nice try.”

Ankiel’s status will trickle down to the bottom of the roster. If he begins the season on the disabled list, “we’ll have all contingencies covered here,” Johnson said. If the Nationals do not sign any outside help, their opening day roster, would presumably include Steve Lombardozzi, Brett Carroll, Xavier Nady and Chad Tracy, who today went 2 for 4 today with his third homer of the spring.

Tracy, who spent 2011 playing in Japan, figured to be the odd man out before Ankiel’s injury worsened. But he has played well enough this month to contend for a spot. A corner infielder who could play the outfield in a pinch, Tracy leads the Nationals with 67 at-bats and 15 RBIs with a .715 OPS.

“All I can control is what I’m doing on the field,” Tracy said. “I feel like I’m swinging the bat good right now. Hopefully, I’ll be heading north.”