JUPITER, Fla. -- The Nationals are looking for a center fielder and Eury Perez wants to show that he can be their man.
While he is not expected to make the Opening Day roster, Perez is trying to prove that he belongs in the big leagues soon.
"I know they need a starting center fielder and I want to show them that I have the ability to do that," Perez said. "Even if I don't get it this year, I want them to know about me and know that I can do what they need. I'm working hard to show them that."
Perez hit .283 and stole 45 bases last season for Class A Potomac. His success earned the 21-year-old an invitation to big league camp, where he has caught the attention of several in the Nationals' organization.
"He's made some adjustments," manager Davey Johnson said. "He had a long, looping swing. [Mark] DeRosa would call it a dip in his swing. But I saw improvements from him from two years ago to last year to this year, and he looks awfully good this year. "
Johnson put Perez at the top of a very talented group of outfielders when discussing how much he has improved over the winter.
"There are a lot of guys who are very much improved in our system and I think he was leading the class," Johnson said. "It's his first time in spring and I think he picked up 14 pounds, and it looked like all muscle. Michael Taylor, Destin Hood and all those guys have shown improvement, but Eury probably has shown the most."
Perez, who was 6-for-12 before going 0-for-2 with two strikeouts on Sunday, credits some of his early spring success to feeling comfortable in big league camp. While some players feel out of place among big leaguers, Perez says he fits right in.
"I have a few friends in camp so I have some guys that have helped me fit in," Perez said. "Knowing people and having guys to talk to and spend time with has helped me feel more comfortable and made me feel loose. I think it has really helped me play better just because I feel comfortable here."
Johnson not a fan of Desmond's stance
JUPITER, Fla. -- Ian Desmond came to camp with a new batting stance and Nationals manager Davey Johnson was not very happy with it.
Desmond, who hit .253 with 139 strikeouts over 154 games last season, worked with his high school hitting coach in the offseason to make some adjustments to his hitting mechanics with the hopes of seeing better results.
But Johnson was not too pleased with what he saw his 26-year-old shortstop and potential leadoff man doing at the plate this spring. The manager talked about the stance with Desmond Saturday and called the conversation "a real good session."
Johnson understands that Desmond is just trying to make his game better. He also knows that Desmond has a long-standing relationship with his high school coach. However, Johnson is not convinced that these new adjustments will do what Desmond is hoping.
"He's impressionable," Johnson said. "They're all impressionable because they want to get better. Anybody who has a history with him is going to have their own ideas of what he needs to do to get better.
"I know him pretty good and I think I'm a little more experienced in knowing what he looks like when he's going good and what he needs to be working on, and how he needs to be thinking."
The skipper believes Desmond's new stance could do more harm than good. Johnson would like Desmond to find "a happy medium" where he feels comfortable and believes he can be productive.
"I want him to decide what's best for him and not his high school hitting coach or me," Johnson said. "I can make some suggestions about what I like and I can tell him what I'm seeing. I want to see the things that great hitters do throughout the swing, from the stance all the way through the swing. When I see what looks natural and right, I want to explain that it's what I'm seeing, and I'm not seeing that now. It doesn't look natural and doesn't look right."
Johnson has decades of experience in the big leagues and he has seen something like this before. People often give tips to players to help them improve and they occasionally take those tips to an extreme. That is what he believes happened with Desmond and his radical change to his batting stance.
"It's kind of like you talk a guy into choking up a half-inch with two strikes and all of a sudden he does it, and the next time you see him he's up there three inches," Johnson said. "It's like 'If that worked, then I'm going way up here.' That's just human nature."
Harper nearing return to Nats' lineup
JUPITER, Fla. -- The Nationals hope to have a few outfielders back in action this week after missing time with injuries.
Top prospect Bryce Harper could be ready to return to the lineup soon after missing time with a calf strain. Harper has been hitting off a tee but has not been able to run yet. Nationals manager Davey Johnson does not expect Harper to play on Monday, but believes he could be ready in the near future.
"Probably not because I haven't seen him go through full drills," Johnson said of Harper's availability for Monday. "I like to see a full workout and then give them another day so we'll see. That's probably not on his schedule. On his schedule, he'd probably be in the lineup."
Johnson is also monitoring Mike Morse's ailing shoulder. Morse received a cortisone shot on Saturday to try and alleviate some of his discomfort. He has not played in a game since March 4.
"He said he wanted to DH some, but I'll see how he's doing," Johnson said. "He's probably going to be a little sore today because he had it done I think [Saturday]. We'll see how he's doing."
Rick Ankiel is another outfielder that could be back in action soon. The veteran was competing for a spot in the Nationals' outfield before a hamstring injury on March 9 forced him to take some time off.
"He was really tight," Johnson said. "The physical therapist really broke it up and he was sore today from trying to break up the tightness in it. The tightness is causing discomfort, so I think once they get that loosened up he'll be OK. Maybe [Monday]. I'll have to check with the trainer."
Once Harper, Morse and Ankiel return, they will join Jayson Werth, Roger Bernadina, Brett Carroll, Jason Michaels, Xavier Paul, Eury Perez and Corey Brown as outfield options.
David Villavicencio is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.