- The Washington Times - Friday, May 11, 2007

Washington Nationals hitting coach Mitchell Page was granted an indefinite leave of absence yesterday for what was described by the team only as “undisclosed personal reasons.”

There is no timetable for Page’s return to the club, and minor league infield coordinator Lenny Harris has been promoted to major league hitting coach on an interim basis.

Page, the Nationals’ hitting coach since 2006, did not answer his cell phone yesterday, but club sources confirmed the 55-year-old had a health scare Thursday when he lost some control of the left side of his body. He remained in the D.C. area yesterday but is scheduled to travel this weekend to his home in Melbourne, Fla., and will be examined by former team doctor Bruce Thomas.

“We’re going to all respect his privacy,” general manager Jim Bowden said. “He’s a very important part of our family and organization. It’s very important to us that we give support to all of our employees who have personal matters, and so we’re going to support him in every way possible in the matter.”

Page has battled other health issues in the past. He was fired by the St. Louis Cardinals following the 2004 season upon admitting he was an alcoholic. He checked himself into a Northern California rehab clinic that winter and has insisted he has remained sober ever since.

The Nationals hired Page in 2005 to serve as their roving minor league hitting instructor and promoted him to the major league staff last season. He was one of two coaches from ex-manager Frank Robinson’s staff retained by new manager Manny Acta, joining pitching coach Randy St. Claire.

“There’s more important things in life than baseball,” Acta said yesterday. “We stand behind the decision, and we’re going to support him and keep it private.”

The Nationals were quick to point out Page’s departure had nothing to do with the club’s offensive struggles this season. Washington entered last night’s game against the Florida Marlins batting a National League-worst .227 while scoring a major league-low 99 runs.

The club held a closed-door, 30-minute meeting before batting practice yesterday, at which time players were told about Page’s condition and informed Harris would be taking over his duties.

The 42-year-old Harris has been with the organization since August following an 18-year career that saw him hit .269 for eight different teams and become the major league’s all-time leader with 212 pinch hits.

“Everyone’s going to miss [Page], and we just pray he gets everything together again,” Harris said. “Because he’s not just a hitting coach. He’s a great guy and a great person.”

Johnson takes grounders

First baseman Nick Johnson spent 10 minutes yesterday afternoon fielding ground balls for the first time since breaking his right leg.

Johnson, who broke his right femur Sept. 23 in a collision with right fielder Austin Kearns, said he felt sore during his brief fielding session yesterday, particularly when going to his backhand.

“I can do all the work we were doing in the weight room, but I wasn’t really pushing it that much,” he said. “I went after one ball and pushed it and it’s pretty sore.”

Johnson has also begun hitting soft toss, along with his work off a tee. There remains no timetable for his return to the lineup.

Extra bases

Josie Cordero, closer Chad Cordero’s grandmother, died early yesterday of brain cancer at 76. Chad Cordero, who was placed on the bereavement list Tuesday, will remain with his family through the weekend and will fly back to the District tomorrow night. He’s expected to be available to pitch Monday.

First baseman Dmitri Young missed his third straight game with a sore left Achilles’ tendon. An MRI taken on Young’s heel revealed no structural damage, and his status is day-to-day. Veteran Ronnie Belliard made his first career start at first base in place of Young last night.

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