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Xavier Nady finds himself in mix for Nationals’ bench spot

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2012

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Ten days ago, when the Washington Nationals announced the signing of versatile veteran Xavier Nady to a minor league contract, there appeared no chance Nady would get a shot in minor league games before the spring was out.

Nady, the victim of an injury-riddled career, arrived with little more than two weeks remaining in spring training. The plan was for him to start preparations in minor league camp with a ticket to Triple-A.

Those plans changed Wednesday. Nady was slotted into the Nationals' starting lineup, hitting seventh and playing first base, in their 3-2 victory over the New York Mets. He will remain on the major league side for the rest of spring training.

"He plays outfield and first base," manager Davey Johnson said. "Last I checked, I had some guys injured there, so why not look at him?"

The injuries to outfielder Michael Morse, and to a lesser extent first baseman Adam LaRoche, have put a charge in the Nationals' bench competition as spring training heads into the home stretch. LaRoche (foot) has been cleared to return to the lineup Thursday. Morse is still doubtful for Opening Day despite positive results from a sonogram that showed healing in his right lat strain.

So Johnson has thrown Nady in as a late entrant into the bench competition, fighting with Brett Carroll, Jason Michaels and Chad Tracy for the team's remaining one or two (if Morse starts the season on the disabled list) roster spots.

Nady will be in the lineup again Thursday, most likely in the outfield, and Johnson acknowledged that he's put him on the same level as the rest of those bench candidates. Carroll would appear to have the inside track on the first spot as a right-handed complement to Rick Ankiel who can play center field, but Nady's versatility at first as well as in the outfield could give him a leg up as well.

Nady acknowledged that he may start the season in Triple-A, a prospect he came to terms with the longer the offseason went before he got a job. His timing at the plate isn't perfect, and Nady didn't pronounce himself Opening Day-ready, other than saying, "I feel good."

"My goal is just to obviously be ready whenever the situation calls for me," Nady said. "And we'll go from there. Whether it's first, outfield or whatever. A lot of things can happen. I'll just stay ready and contribute when my name's called."

With six games remaining on the spring schedule and seven in the team's exhibition season, Nady has a small window in which to impress. But there's no question he's thrown a curve into the Nationals' bench competition.

"[Players], they know their competition," Johnson said. "Whether you're talking about the outfield situation, the first base situation, I don't have to say diddly. They know it better than I do."

Morse, Storen likely to open season on DL

The Nationals got good news on Morse and closer Drew Storen, who began his throwing program Wednesday by playing catch from 90 feet and came out of it without pain, but both are still questionable to be ready by Opening day next Thursday.

A sonogram on Morse's strained right lat muscle revealed that the slight tear had "flattened out and healed," Johnson said. The next step for the outfielder will be hitting off a tee, but the results Wednesday allow the Nationals to accelerate Morse's baseball activity.

Storen was scheduled to throw from 120 feet Wednesday and progress from there. Johnson estimated the closer might be ready to rejoin the team by mid-April, but "I'm being hopeful," he said.

Players with spring injuries can be backdated on the disabled list to March 26, so Morse and Storen, if placed there, would be eligible to return by April 10.

Around the horn

Outfielder Roger Bernadina left camp Wednesday after the death of his father. Bernadina returned to Curacao for the funeral and is not expected back in camp until Saturday.

• Jordan Zimmermann threw six shutout innings Wednesday, allowing two hits, striking out two. He needed just 68 pitches. He developed a blister on his foot in the sixth inning, otherwise he would have been allowed to pitch a seventh.

• Shortstop Ian Desmond was 4 for 4 on Wednesday, raising his average to .302.

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