The Washington Times - March 10, 2012, 06:11PM

LAKELAND, Fla. — Corey Brown started and stopped so many times in 2011 it was basically a lost year.

Brown was traded to the Nationals as part of the deal that sent Josh Willingham to Oakland, but hurt his ankle early in spring training and wasn’t able to make an impact. He got out of the gate slow at Triple-A and never found his rhythm (he finished the year with a .235 average) but had a torrid month of August (he hit .351) to earn a September call-up. He arrived in Washington, had one major league at-bat, and went down with a staph infection in his right knee that required surgery.

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Recovery was supposed to be straight forward and wouldn’t hinder him too much in the offseason, he was told. Then that infection turned out to be Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and he feared he’d have to have another surgery. It didn’t come to that, with antibiotics finally ridding him of the infection, but needless to say Brown is in camp this spring hoping he can make a better impression.

“My main thing is just staying healthy,” Brown said Saturday after making a nifty sliding catch down the right field line in the bottom of the sixth inning and then smacking a solo home run off Jose Valverde in the top of the seventh.

“That’s my main focus. Just trying to go out there and show them that I can still play at this level and bounce back. Last year wasn’t much of a success. I’m not trying to worry about that, or what happened this offseason. I’m just trying to go out there every day and impress the coaches, because they really haven’t seen me play much.”

Looking back, Brown felt it was a combination of injuries and pressure, put on himself in his first year with a new organization, that helped compile his sub-par season. He wanted so badly to prove to the Nationals that they didn’t make a mistake by sending Josh Willingham to the A’s for he and Henry Rodriguez that he wasn’t himself at the plate.

“It’s just a matter of freeing him up,” said Nationals’ bench coach Randy Knorr, who managed Brown in Triple-A Syracuse last season. “I think being in a trade, that puts a lot of pressure on guys and some guys handle it better than others at the beginning… He had a lot going on in his head and he was trying to prove himself to a new organization. Hopefully he’s relaxed now and we can see what he’s capable of doing.”

In 2010, the season before he was traded, Brown hit .283 with a .370 on-base percentage and .466 slugging percentage in 131 minor league games between Double-A and Triple-A in the A’s organization. Those numbers are in stark contrast to the .235/.326/.402 mark he put up in Syracuse last year. 

But he took one step toward making a new impression on Saturday with his play. Brown is likely ticketed for Syracuse again this season and the Nationals removed him from the 40-man this winter, but he’s a versatile outfielder who can play both of the corners as well as center field. If he can return to the player he was when the Nationals traded for him, he’d certainly better his chances of returning to the big league level.

– Andres Blanco also homered, his off Joaquin Benoit, and the utility infielder said it wasn’t a stroke he’d forget any time soon.

“That was pretty nice,” Blanco said. “I knew he wanted to throw me a strike, he’s a veteran player. He doesn’t want to walk me. He just wants to make me swing. And I knew 100 percent that he would throw me fastball right down the middle and I was ready and I got it. I hit it pretty good, too.” 

Blanco, who has just three career major league home runs, thought it might have been his very first spring training homer. It was actually his second, but nonetheless, a good moment for him. Blanco has proven to be a slick fielder but with the Nationals’ relatively set and likely going to Steve Lombardozzi for the bench role in that spot, Blanco could find himself at Triple-A.