The Washington Times - March 9, 2012, 01:11PM

VIERA, Fla. — Most days, Chris Marrero’s work is done long before most of his teammates making their way out to the field for the morning stretch. His work is specialized — strength and conditioning activities suited for someone recovering from surgery to repair a torn hamstring — and aside from the trainer or two who watches him, he does it mostly along.

But Marrero was in a good mood Friday morning. The Nationals’ normally quiet first baseman walked over a reporter copying down the lineups for the next few days, pointed at the placard and jokingly asked: “Marrero?”

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His progress from November surgery to repair the tear, suffered while playing in the Dominican Winter League, is going very well but while Marrero hit a milestone on Friday, he’s still a ways away from getting into the starting lineup.

He did, however, taking batting practice with the team for the first time — and he could hardly wipe the smile off his face after.

“I was really excited to get out there today,” he said. “I felt great. I was anxious to get out there and it’s fun to actually hit and do stuff with the team. I’m happy. I want to participate in more activities.”

If it was up to Marrero, he’d declare himself ready for duty immediately but he’s also aware that his rehab process is a long one. Initial estimates put Marrero out until at least the All-Star break and while he’s been extremely encouraged by the progress made since he arrived in camp, he still doesn’t know if that timeline has been moved at all.

“From the day that I got here until now, it’s a big difference in how good I feel,” he said. “We’re doing more and more every week. Now I’m progressing to jogging a little harder, running, catching ground balls in the field. I think every week it’ll get a lot better.”

Marrero had been hitting on a tee a little bit in recent days but he was just waiting — anxiously anticipating, really — to be given the go-ahead to take batting practice during the regular workout. There are still hurdles to clear. Marrero hasn’t done any baserunning or worked on stretching at first base — which would seem to be one of the biggest tests — so he knows he has to maintain cautious optimism.

But Friday was a step, a big step. Even after the team had come in from the workout and most players were acquainting themselves with lunch, Marrero still had a bat in his hands.

“If it was up to me I’d want to play right now, even though I’m not ready,” he said. “I’m just happy. Keep moving up from here.”