- The Washington Times - Monday, June 27, 2005

The Washington Nationals only can hope Nick Johnson’s injury is nothing serious.

Johnson, who is having an All-Star caliber season, left yesterday’s game in the seventh inning with what the team called a bruised heel. He was taken to Washington Hospital Center for X-rays and a MRI. The results were not immediately available, and the first baseman is day-to-day.

Johnson injured his heel when his spikes got caught in the dirt crossing home plate on Vinny Castilla’s two-run double, which tied the game 5-5. Instead of sliding, Johnson tried to sidestep Toronto Blue Jays catcher Gregg Zaun, who was blocking the plate, and jammed his right leg before his left foot hit the plate.

“His ankle seemed OK. His knee seemed OK. [The blow] was directly on his heel,” team physician Bruce Thomas said. “His ankle seemed stable. He was just sore where he landed. We’re hoping it was a bone bruise.”

Nationals manager Frank Robinson said Johnson’s injury is a prime example why players should take out catchers on close plays at the plate. Johnson, who entered yesterday’s game second in the National League in on-base percentage (.443), tied for fifth in walks (45) and sixth in batting average (.323) easily beat left fielder Gabe Gross’ throw, but Zaun appeared to be blocking the plate without the ball.

“This is why catchers get knocked on their butts,” Robinson said. “This is the very reason. [Zaun] blocked the plate when he didn’t have a chance for a play at the plate at that time. That’s why you should never as a runner avoid knocking them on their butts because there is a good possibility that you’re going to get hurt.”

Zaun said Johnson’s injury was the Nationals’ fault because they didn’t have anyone behind the plate telling Johnson to slide.

“I’m not a dirty player,” Zaun said. “I’m definitely not going to shy away from contact at the plate. … I didn’t do anything wrong. I got out of there as soon as I could. I’m hoping Nick’s OK.”

Sledge sighting

Injured outfielder Terrmel Sledge made his first visit to the nation’s capital since rupturing his right hamstring May2.

The 28-year-old Sledge, who is out for the season, sat in the dugout. After going on the 15-day disabled list May3, he had surgery on the hamstring and on his right shoulder to repair a torn rotator cuff.

“This is the toughest thing I’ve ever been through playing baseball in my whole life,” Sledge said. “The first month I was bedridden and couldn’t watch baseball at all. Now I’m watching baseball again and getting the feeling back. I’m able to walk, and these guys are playing good. It’s exciting to see them.”

Hard to say goodbye

There is still no sign of outfielder Marlon Byrd’s 2002 black Cadillac Escalade. The vehicle was stolen from the players’ parking lot at RFK Stadium on Wednesday while the team was concluding a nine-game road trip in Pittsburgh.

Byrd, who was acquired May14 in a trade with the Philadelphia Phillies for Endy Chavez, is holding out little hope the vehicle will be recovered.

“It’s probably in a local chop shop by now,” Byrd said.

Byrd said the Escalade has sentimental value. It was the first car he purchased with his own money and contained some irreplaceable personal items.

“I have some CDs in there from college,” Byrd said.

Extra bases

Nationals general manager Jim Bowden and special assistant Barry Larkin were invited to the White House yesterday to take part in the annual T-ball game on the South Lawn. President Bush invited Bowden to the White House on Friday when he unexpectedly showed up at RFK for the Nationals’ game against the Blue Jays. … The Nationals’ players cast their All-Star ballots before the game. They were allowed to vote for each other.

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