The Washington Times - March 29, 2012, 01:07PM

VIERA, Fla. — The Nationals had a welcome return Thursday when Adam LaRoche was in the lineup for the first time since March 15, but moments before their 1:05 p.m. game against the Atlanta Braves, utility man Mark DeRosa was scratched.

DeRosa was scheduled to play left field, his first appearance in the outfield this spring, but he was unable to do so because of a little left calf tightness. It was just a precaution, though, and the 37-year-old expected to be back in the lineup on Friday and take a another crack at playing the outfield.

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“I figure why go out there and jeopardize everything you’ve worked so hard for?” DeRosa said. “If anyone is tired of being in the training room, it’s me. I’ve spent the better part of the last 2 1/2 years in there.

“I feel like my swing is there. I feel good about what I’ve done in camp so far. I just didn’t want to do anything foolish.”

DeRosa said he first felt the calf tightness during the Nationals’ game in Jupiter on Tuesday but he played the majority of that game without issue. He described it as “like a little Charley Horse,” but also added “it’s not a big deal. Nothing I’m concerned about.”

The way the Nationals roster has taken shape, DeRosa will play an extremely valuable role this season at the corner infield and outfield spots. With Adam LaRoche still on the mend, but back, and Michael Morse expected to start the season on the disabled list, an injury to DeRosa would throw quite a wrench into the Nationals’ plans.

He was not concerned, though, with the fact that he has yet to play the outfield this spring, feeling that it was more important for him to get his legs under him in the infield and figuring his outfield play can be “ironed out” with a few days of work out there.

DeRosa has had a terrific spring at the plate, hitting .385 with a .556 on-base percentage and .538 slugging percentage. And, best of all, his surgically-repaired left wrist has felt great all spring — a fact that DeRosa gets almost sheepish about when you bring it up, as if he’s petrified talking about it will change the state of things.

“(It feels) great,” he said, knocking on the floor of his locker as a precaution. “I don’t know why, but it does.”