Tuesday, September 26, 2006

NEW YORK — Nick Johnson is making strides in his recovery from a broken right leg, but the Washington Nationals first baseman wasn’t mobile enough to leave the hospital last night and accompany his teammates on their charter train back to the District.

Johnson, who had surgery Saturday night to repair a fractured femur, did manage to get out of bed and put some weight on his leg yesterday. He began working with a physical therapist on moving the leg around.

“He’s still sore, as you would expect,” Nationals head trainer Tim Abraham said. “But they got him up today, got up and around his room a little bit with the walker.”

Doctors were hopeful Johnson would feel good enough to check out of the New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens and travel home with the club following last night’s game against the Mets.

Medically speaking, according to Abraham, Johnson would have no travel restrictions. But until he feels comfortable enough moving around on his own, he won’t leave the hospital.

“No, he’s not coming home with us tonight,” Abraham said. “We’re hoping that [he can] in the next couple of days. It just depends on how quickly he can get up and comfortably move around. That’s the big thing.”

A steady stream of well-wishers continued to visit Johnson on Sunday evening and yesterday afternoon, including team owner Mark Lerner, who attended last night’s game, and manager Frank Robinson, who spent 15 minutes with his first baseman Sunday.

Johnson, who had a titanium rod placed inside the bone canal to hold it in place, is expected to be able to walk without crutches or a walker in about six weeks. If all goes well, he should be ready for the start of spring training.

St. Claire still out

Pitching coach Randy St. Claire missed his third straight game with pneumonia, and though he was set to return to Washington last night, it’s uncertain whether he will return to the dugout before the end of the season.

St. Claire was released from the hospital Sunday and spent the night at the team’s Manhattan hotel. He joined the rest of the club on the train following last night’s game.

The Nationals have tried to make do in St. Claire’s absence, with bullpen coach Randy Knorr taking on some of his responsibilities, but there’s only so much Knorr can do.

“The duties and the knowledge that Randy brings, I can’t do that,” Robinson said. “Nobody else around here can do that, as far as his experience and know-how. … People within this organization have a lot of respect for him.”

Kearns still ailing

Right fielder Austin Kearns, the man who collided with Johnson while chasing down a popup Saturday, is still feeling the effects and was held out of his second straight game.

Kearns’ left side is aching, as is his right quadriceps.

“I’d like to be out there,” he said. “But I’m still pretty sore.”

Kearns also is struggling mentally to deal with the frightening play. He has visited Johnson several times in the hospital and has conveyed his apologies for ending his teammate’s season, even if everyone agrees no one was to blame for the collision.

“The first time I went and saw him, before he had the surgery, was tough,” said Kearns, who has not watched a replay of the incident. “I didn’t know what to say. I said I’m sorry about five or six times. He was trying to just talk and joke around. It was tough.”

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