Notes: Johnson ready to play
First baseman eager for spring, says leg is '100 percent'
VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals first baseman Nick Johnson was seen in the Space Coast Stadium clubhouse Wednesday afternoon and said that he is ready to start playing exhibition games -- and for good reason. He missed all of the 2007 season because of a broken right leg, which he injured on Sept. 23, 2006, against the Mets at Shea Stadium.
Johnson, who said his right leg is 100 percent, has already has hit off the tee and took batting practice since arriving in Florida on Sunday.
"It felt good [to hit in the cage]," Johnson said. "I have a lot of work to do to get the swing where I want it. We are going to take it slow and keep working."
During Johnson's absence, Dmitri Young was the regular first baseman, hitting .320 with 13 home runs and 74 RBIs. Young ended up winning the National League Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Now, Young and Johnson find themselves competing for the starting job at first base. General manager Jim Bowden already announced that Young is the starter entering Spring Training, and Johnson said he understands why that is the case.
"He had a great year," Johnson said about Young. "He is a good dude. We are just going to play baseball and let everything play out."
Speaking hypothetically, Johnson, 29, indicated that if he were to lose the first-base job to Young, he would not accept being a bench player.
"I want to play every day," Johnson said.
Asked if he would prefer to be traded if he lost the first-base job to Young, Johnson hesitated, laughed and said, "Yeah, I don't want to sit on the bench. I want to play every day. I love to play baseball. That's not my decision."
The last time Johnson played was in '06, and he ended up having the best season of his career. He hit .290 with 23 home runs, 100 runs scored and a .428 on-base percentage.
Getting work in: Washington's projected starting rotation -- Shawn Hill, John Patterson, Jason Bergmann, John Lannan and Matt Chico -- is already in camp and working out.
Bergmann believes the rotation could be one of the best in baseball provided that every one stays healthy. Last year, Bergmann, Patterson and Hill missed significant time because of injuries.
"We have several key members coming back from injuries -- Patterson and Hill. Word has it that they are 100 percent and ready to go," Bergmann said. "If they can anchor the top of the rotation, I think we have a solid rotation."
Although he is listed as a member of the rotation, Bergmann, who was 6-6 with a 4.45 ERA last year, isn't taking anything for granted and feels he is fighting for a spot on the 25-man roster.
"There were games where I was healthy and I didn't pitch well. That's not all me. There are some very good hitters, too. I have to be better. I have to be more consistent," he said.
A new man: Reliever Ray King arrived in camp in the best shape of his life. He lost 23 pounds and hardly has a gut. King decided to stay away from junk food and sodas and start working out with son. He said instead of going to In-N-Out Burger, King ate salmon instead.
King decided to lose weight after watching some video tapes of himself dating back to 2003, when he was with the Braves. He felt that being overweight changed his mechanics, which prevented him from making better pitches.
"I had a reality check," King said. "I felt I had to better myself physically. I feel good. I look back and I say, 'What if.' You can't dwell on the past. The only thing you could try to do is change it and see what you can do about the future. The main goal was to try to drop these pounds and see if it could make a difference."
A Wagner sighting: Reliever Ryan Wagner, who missed most of the '07 season because of a tear in his right shoulder, is throwing off the mound and able to throw all of his pitches -- but he may not start the regular season on time. Wagner pointed out that the Nationals want him to continue strengthening his arm.
"[Playing in] Spring Training games is not looking too likely -- not necessarily because I wouldn't be ready, but because there is no reason to rush it," Wagner said. "You don't know how good I could feel. A month from now, even though I'm feeling great now, it could be outstanding -- if they want to throw me into some games. We'll see. We are going to play it by ear. They are going to do what is in my best interest."
After having surgery on June 5, Wagner went back to Texas and realized how much he missed the game of baseball.
"I watched the game every night. Man, it felt weird. It was almost like skipping school when you know you are supposed to be there," Wagner said. "It's awesome to be back."
Going to Tampa: Infielder Felipe Lopez and Bowden were in Tampa for Lopez's arbitration case on Wednesday. A ruling is not expected until the next day. Lopez is asking for $5.2 million, while the Nats have countered with a $4.9 million deal. Lopez is coming off his worst season as an everyday player, hitting .245 with nine home runs and 50 RBIs.
Stat of the day: Manager Manny Acta made a Major League record 588 pitching changes in 2007.
Did you know? The Nationals were 27-24 in one-run games last year.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.