- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 27, 2009

— After leaving Thursday night’s game against the Boston Red Sox with a left shin contusion, Washington Nationals first baseman Nick Johnson returned to the starting lineup for Friday night’s game against the Baltimore Orioles.

The injury occurred in the first inning of Thursday’s 9-3 victory. Boston’s John Smoltz hit Johnson in the leg with a pitch. Johnson’s leg swelled up, and he exited in the second inning. Adam Dunn took his place at first base.

Before Friday’s series opener at Oriole Park, Johnson said he felt he was ready to play. Nationals manager Manny Acta said Johnson would have been the designated hitter if his leg weren’t healthy enough to play first base. But Johnson checked out fine before the game.

Johnson, who has been on the disabled list every season of his major league career, said the swelling, while much better than it was Thursday night, was still surprising.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Johnson said.

Olsen back next week

Acta said left-handed pitcher Scott Olsen should be on the mound for the team’s series against the Florida Marlins, which begins Monday. Olsen has been on the disabled list since May 17 with left shoulder tendinitis.

To make room for Olsen in the starting rotation, the Nationals will need to send a starter to the minor leagues. “The only factor is going to be what is best for the Washington Nationals now and in the future,” Acta said.

Acta offered advice to whichever pitcher who will be sent down.

“They just have to go down there and continue to throw first-pitch strikes and continue to work on secondary pitches,” Acta said.

Kearns sits again

After starting 17 of the Nationals’ first 24 games, right fielder Austin Kearns has been absent from the team’s starting lineup recently. Entering Friday, his last appearance at the plate was in a pinch-hitting role Tuesday against the Red Sox. Kearns is hitting .196.

Kearns was the Nationals’ Opening Day right fielder but has lost playing time, first to Elijah Dukes and more recently to Josh Willingham. He has long been praised by Acta as one of the team’s hardest workers and one of its best fielders, but his recent slump has pushed him to the bench.

“I respect him a lot, and he has earned that respect,” Acta said. “But we have to play the guys who are helping us right now, and he understands that. He’s a very smart guy.”

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