(Alex Brandon /AP)

When Scott Hairston arrived in Washington last month, Nationals officials had a question for him. Had he ever played first base? He answered honestly: he had not.

That could soon change. An outfielder for the vast majority of his 10-year career, Hairston took groundballs at first base today during batting practice. He’s not changing positions, only making himself more versatile. He wants to gain comfort at the spot now so he can play there next season if needed.

In the winter, Hairston’s brother, major leaguer Jerry Hairston, recommended Hairston start taking grounders at first. Hairston didn’t follow the advice, but now he wants to add the position to his skill set. Hairston said he plans to order two first baseman mitts this winter and practice. “Maybe it’ll lengthen my career,” he said.

Hairston learning the position now could benefit the Nationals next year. He is under contract through 2014, as is Adam LaRoche. If the Nationals don’t make any changes, Hairston could give the Nationals a right-handed option at first base.

This afternoon, for example, Manager Davey Johnson originally wanted to give LaRoche a day off to rest against lefty John Lannan. Chad Tracy had a stiff neck, and so those plans were scrapped and LaRoche is in there tonight, batting sixth. But he didn’t even have a right-handed hitter who could play first, at least with Tyler Moore at Class AAA Syracuse.

Johnson pointed to the lack of a right-handed first baseman as one “small thing” upsetting the balance of the Nationals’ roster; switch-hitting Steve Lombardozzi also took grounders at first this afternoon. LaRoche has handled left-handed pitchers well throughout his career, but this year he’s hitting .184 with a .552 OPS against lefties.

Moore has been on a tear at Class AAA Syracuse, going 13 for 40 with four homers over his last 10 games. Still, Johnson suggested Moore, who struggled mightily at the majors, would not return to the Nationals’ until  September call-ups.

“How we get him here, we might have to wait until the expansion of the rosters,” Johnson said.

Hairston came up as a second baseman, but aside from a couple emergency stints at second he last played the infield in 2004, his rookie year. Hairston also played third base briefly in the minors.