- The Washington Times - Friday, July 27, 2007

PHILADELPHIA — The Washington Nationals are close to signing Dmitri Young to a two-year contract extension, a sign both of the uncertainty surrounding Nick Johnson’s recovery from a broken leg and the organization’s appreciation for how much the veteran slugger has meant on and off the field this season.

No agreement had been reached as of last night, and it might be several days before it is, but club sources confirmed the two sides are on the verge of striking a deal that is believed to be worth between $4 million to $5 million a season, plus some performance-based options.

Young, who went 2-for-4 in yesterday’s 7-6 win over the Philadelphia Phillies to raise his average to .333, acknowledged he has been in negotiations but wouldn’t go into any details.

“Until it’s announced, I’m not saying anything,” he said.

Nationals general manager Jim Bowden did not return messages.

Signed to a nonguaranteed, minor league contract worth $500,000 during spring training, Young, 32, has enjoyed a career renaissance with Washington. After a tumultuous year in which he was arrested for domestic abuse, got divorced, spent time in an alcohol rehab facility and was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, Young has gotten his baseball and personal lives back together.

He won the Opening Day first baseman’s job and has been one of the most-productive hitters in baseball. His .389 average since May 17 is tops in the majors and earned him a berth in this month’s All-Star Game.

Still, it had been assumed all along Young didn’t fit into Washington’s long-term plan. With Johnson expected to return later this season, or next spring at worst, Young appeared likely to be dealt before Tuesday’s trade deadline.

Bowden has listened to offers for the veteran slugger but to date has not received one to his liking. With contending clubs unwilling to deal top prospects, Bowden shifted his attention to negotiating an extension with Young.

Now, with Johnson’s recovery taking longer than expected and no guarantee he’ll ever return to his previous form, Young could be an insurance policy at first base. He also could prove to be a valuable bat off the bench or perhaps could even move to the outfield, where he began his career.

Or Young could still be traded at some point. The terms of this soon-to-be completed deal aren’t too large for another club to resist making an offer to Bowden.

Note — Jason Bergmann said his strained left hamstring was feeling better yesterday, but the right-hander still wasn’t able to make his scheduled throwing session and likely won’t be ready to start Sunday against the New York Mets.

Bergmann, who hurt himself running the bases Tuesday night against the Phillies, insists he could pitch at Shea Stadium without throwing off a mound in between starts. But the Nationals aren’t likely to let him take a chance, especially with an overworked bullpen that faces four games in less than 48 hours over the weekend.

If Bergmann can’t go, Washington is expected to promote right-hander Joel Hanrahan from Class AAA Columbus to make his major league debut in the nightcap of tomorrow’s doubleheader. Billy Traber, who threw 44 pitches in relief Tuesday night, would then be bumped from tomorrow to start Sunday in Bergmann’s place.