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Saturday, March 8, 2008

Nats Spring Training Notes

Viera, FL--The Washington Nationals are not unique in having to deal with injuries in spring training. But many of their regular players, players this team will depend on this season to be competitive in the difficult NL East, are battling through injuries or rehabbing from off-season surgeries.

Free-agent signee Johnny Estrada was given a cortisone shot in his right elbow Thursday, delaying him from taking the field with the other catchers on the practice fields. Estrada has not played yet, and is not on any time-table to do so. He told The Washington Post, "I can't do anything, just run. It stinks." Paul LoDuca, the presumed starter who was signed in the off-season, is still over a week away from his return from minor knee surgery right before spring training, leaving the burden on incumbent Jesus Flores. The 23-year old former Rule V draft pick was slated to spend the season in AA, but these injuries may force the Nats' hand--or not. Chad Moeller and Humberto Cota, both veterans, are still in camp and one may be on the opening day roster, backing up LoDuca--or Flores.

One-time potential opening day starter Shawn Hill has been "shut down" according to sources, but Manager Manny Acta merely indicated that they are holding him back to rest his sore forearm. Hill's MRI on Tuesday was negative, but he had to cut short a throwing session on Friday, a session the team hoped he'd be able to complete in his road to get back on the mound. Hill needs to get some innings in before too long if he wants to avoid a trip to the disabled list to start the season, something that appears to be an option right now, considering Hill's lingering pain.

Last year's feel good story isn't feeling very good. First baseman Dmitri Young hasn't appeared in a spring training game yet either, as he suffered a pulled muscle in his side in the batting cages before games began. He's felling better, but still having much difficultly swinging the bat and bending over for grounders. Another complicating factor for Young is his weight. He reported to camp at 298 pounds, and he believes his daily insulin treatments for his Type-II diabetes is to blame. He is working with his doctors to come up with a different treatment regimen in order to get his weight under control. Young came into camp expecting to have to battle Nick Johnson for the starting first base position, but every day that goes by that Young isn't on the field is another missed opportunity to win the job. It's likely that if Young can avoid the DL, he'll begin the year as a switch-hitting pinch-hitter, albeit one that just signed a two-year, $10M contract.

Nick Johnson is slowly getting back into the swing of things. He's hitting .333 (5 for 15) thus far, but still feels his weight transfer is off. Johnson is the type of hitter that "feels" his way in the box, and adjusting to live hitting has been his biggest challenge--baseball-wise--of the spring. He did have a slide and play at the plate in Friday's game, so he's getting past the fear of re-injury, an important step in his recovery from a broken femur, the injury that has kept him off the field since late 2006.

Right-hander John Patterson is starting to open things up. Earlier in camp, Patterson was short-striding his fastball, not fully extending his release point, perhaps not fully trusting his rehab from forearm surgery. But in a minor league game on Friday, Patterson opened it up and allowed four hits and one run in two and two-thirds innings, walking just one and striking out one. He threw 34 pitches, and is expected to start Tuesday against Atlanta.

Group Photo courtesy of Anthony Amobi
Patterson and Johnson photos (c) Cheryl Nichols 2006

"Nats Spring Training Notes" also posted at DC Sports Box

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