- The Washington Times - Friday, April 1, 2005

JUPITER, Fla. — Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson inserted Nick Johnson into the leadoff spot yesterday, hoping to find somebody for the role just three days before Monday’s opener in Philadelphia.

Johnson, who has a .372 career on-base percentage, went 0-for-3 with a sacrifice fly in a 3-1 loss to Florida.

“It’s no different, maybe a little bit, but I try to get a good pitch and hit it hard somewhere and get on base,” Johnson said.

Robinson’s search for a leadoff hitter became necessary when the Nationals shipped Endy Chavez to the minors Tuesday. Shortstop Cristian Guzman batted leadoff for two games and was hitless in seven at-bats.

“[Johnson] has a high on-base percentage, he walks quite a bit, he hits for a high average and gets on base. That’s what you need from a leadoff man,” said Robinson, who added Johnson likely will be at the top of the order today against Tampa Bay.

Robinson is undecided on his leadoff man for Opening Day but said he’ll have a lineup set by Sunday.

Sledge strains calf

Outfielder Terrmel Sledge left yesterday’s game in the sixth inning with a strained left calf. Sledge, who started in place of Brad Wilkerson, singled in two at-bats.

Sledge took himself out as a precautionary measure when he felt tightness in his calf after chasing down a fly ball in the second inning.

“I will be back tomorrow,” Sledge said. “It’s just precautionary. Other than that, I’ll be ready for the season, definitely. I made a quick break [on the ball], and it was hot and humid out there, and I felt some muscle tightness. A little bit of it was probably dehydration. It never got worse. The smart thing now is to be ready for the season rather than a spring training game. I’ll be back in no time.”

Castilla returns

Third baseman Vinny Castilla returned to the lineup after missing 10 games with a hyperextended left knee suffered March 18. He probably will be ready for Opening Day.

Castilla went hitless in three at-bats and cleanly fielded two grounders. Castilla, who entered the game with just two hits in 20 at-bats, said he never puts up big numbers in spring training.

“My swing is coming. I hit the ball good today but right at people,” Castilla said. “Since I’ve become a regular player, I come to spring training to get ready for the season. I come here to see the pitches the pitchers want to throw to me in the season. My numbers in spring training have never been good. But when you turn the lights on, it counts.”

Patterson’s last turn

Making his final start of the spring, John Patterson allowed three runs — all on homers — in six innings, struck out four and walked one. He surrendered a solo homer to Damion Easley in the second inning and a two-run homer to Juan Encarnacion.

“The pitch to Encarnacion was a good pitch,” Patterson said. “I’ve never seen him turn on a ball like that before. All I can do is take the ball to the mound and get guys out and keep the team in the game.”

Patterson slid into the Nationals starting rotation when the club placed right-hander Tony Armas Jr. on the disabled list Monday.

Robinson said he was pleased with Patterson’s performance.

“His velocity was good, his location was very good, and his breaking ball was outstanding,” Robinson said. “It was a good outing.”

Divisional breakdown

After yesterday’s loss to Florida, the Nationals fell to 4-5-1 against National League East rivals.

Washington is 1-1 against Atlanta, 1-2-1 against the New York Mets and 2-2 against Florida. The Nationals did not face Philadelphia.

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