Anyone who watched Nick Johnson struggle to try to get himself back into baseball shape over the last few months knew there was no chance he would return to play for the Washington Nationals this season.
But when confirmation of that fact came yesterday, it still was difficult for some to accept.
The final verdict came after Johnson was examined yesterday by a hip specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Dr. David Lewallen determined the 28-year-old first baseman will need to have another surgical procedure tomorrow to remove the titanium rod and screw implanted in his upper leg after he broke his right femur upon colliding with teammate Austin Kearns.
By the time Johnson recovered from the surgery, it would be too late in the season to make an attempt at playing.
"We just couldn"t quite get over the hump with his hip," Nationals general manager Jim Bowden said. "He couldn't quite get to the ground ball to his left. His hitting has come along great. There was no question in our mind that he made tremendous progress offensively. But it just wasn't allowing him to be Nick Johnson."
Team officials insisted Johnson did not suffer a setback in his recovery and that the upcoming surgical procedure is routine. They also remain confident he'll be ready for spring training, at which point he'll be 17 months removed from the original injury.
"The medical people have been very clear," Bowden said. "They all believe he'll be able to play in 2008. And I know one thing: Nobody's going to work harder."
Johnson, who has two years and $11 million remaining on the contract extension he signed in 2006, was flying back from Minnesota last night and was not available.
The Nationals formally introduced sixth-round pick Jack McGeary yesterday, capping an impressive draft in which the club signed all of its top 20 selections.
McGeary, a first-round talent who was passed over by other clubs because he was insisting on attending Stanford this fall, wound up agreeing to a deal in which the Nationals will pay him a $1.8 million signing bonus in addition to tuition so he can still go to school.
The 18-year-old left-hander will take classes at Stanford from late-September through May for up to three years, maintaining a conditioning and throwing program. He'll then play minor league ball for Washington from June through mid-September.
"We felt, because of Stanford's schedule, that we could get the starts and the innings in, with him getting his education in full, without affecting his development time," Bowden said.
McGeary, rated a top-15 talent in the country following his senior season at Roxbury Latin High School outside Boston, was surprised himself after getting a signing bonus comparable to those given to high first-round picks.
"I thought there was pretty much no chance to sign because I'd never really heard of anything like this before," he said. "So here we are two to three months later, and it's hard to believe something actually happened."
John Patterson, rehabbing in Viera, Fla., will throw to live hitters Sunday for the first time. ...
The starting time for the Nationals' final home game at RFK Stadium (Sept. 23 against the Phillies) has been moved up to 12:05 p.m.