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Notes: Johnson back on familiar turf

Notes: Johnson back on familiar turf

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- It wasn't quite the Minor League homecoming that injured Nick Johnson would have liked.

Still, the Nationals first baseman, who continues to recover from a broken right femur, couldn't help but take a break from his pregame rehab routine to poke his head out of the home dugout for a familiar look onto the field at Cooper Stadium.

"I had some good memories here," Johnson said with a grin. "I had a great time."

Now 28, Johnson spent parts of three seasons from 2001-03 as a top prospect playing for the then-Yankees Triple-A club at Cooper Stadium.

During the '03 offseason, Johnson was traded to Washington along with outfielder Juan Rivera and left-handed pitcher Randy Choate in exchange for pitcher Javier Vazquez.

"It would have been nice [to continue playing for the Yankees]," Johnson said. "But that's how baseball is. You gotta move on."

Johnson is trying to apply the same mentality to his rehab, although a date has not yet been determined for his return. In the meantime, Johnson will continue his work while traveling with his teammates.

"It's an injury that deserves more attention than the other ones, with one-on-one personal attention with our head trainer," Washington manager Manny Acta said. "The plan right now is for him to travel with us. I don't think we'll leave him behind. But if something comes up, we'll send him down to Florida.''

At best, Acta said he expects to see his starting first baseman back in action midway through the season.

"But there's really no timetable," Acta said. "The guy is just jogging right now.''

On Thursday, Johnson wasn't the only former Clipper to get a loud round of applause from the 4,803 fans in attendance.

Reserve infielder D'Angelo Jimenez was also recognized before the game, having played at Cooper Stadium for the Clippers during the 2000 and '01 seasons -- the latter in the starting lineup with Johnson.

Jimenez, a free-agent acquisition for the Nats, took over at second base for Felipe Lopez in the seventh. He was 0-for-2 with a walk.

On the mend: An hour before the 4:05 p.m. ET start, center fielder Nook Logan and trainer Lee Koontz spent time in right field testing Logan's strained right groin muscle. Afterward, the pair took to the infield for some baserunning under the watchful eye of Acta.

After appearing to jog, run forward and sideways, backpedal and run the bases without a problem, Logan confirmed he felt good.

Acta had determined before Thursday's game that Logan would not play no matter how good he felt, leaving Logan looking forward to testing the groin in live action Friday.

"I hope so," he said when asked if he could play in the game in Norfolk, Va. "There's no pain. I'm just a little sore from all the work I did [Wednesday]. But the groin feels great.''

That's good news to Acta, who would prefer to see Logan play before committing him to the Opening Day roster.

"I don't see how we're going to put him out there on Opening Day unless he plays first,'' Acta said.

After the game, the manager's tone regarding Logan was less guarded.

"Hes going to play [Friday],'' Acta said, noting that if Friday's action goes well, he'd like to see if Logan can make it back-to-back days on Saturday.

Still waiting: Despite the positive news surrounding Logan, Acta said he will not announce the final roster cuts that reduce the team to 25 players for Opening Day until after the final exhibition at RFK Stadium on Saturday.

"I refuse to do the last few cuts or let guys know they're on the team now,'' Acta said. "This is still Spring Training, you never know what's going to happen. I'd rather wait to let them know they're on the team and let them celebrate at the last minute rather than look foolish if something goes wrong.''

That means super utility man Kory Casto has a few more agonizing days before he learns his fate -- whether he will make the big-league team or start the season at Triple-A Columbus.

"I felt like I needed to come in early and be ready to have a chance,'' said Casto, who entered the game batting .286 (12-for-42) with seven walks and a .388 on-base percentage in 19 games this spring. "So I went to Florida early -- the first week of February, to be exact.''

The Nationals' top hitting prospect has done plenty to open eyes, including going 2-for-5 with an RBI in Thursday's 3-3 tie against the Orioles. Still, where Casto opens the season depends more on Logan's health status than anything else.

"We all hope Nook comes back in time, because we need him,'' the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Casto said. "In the meantime, it's tough not to know what's going to happen. Not just for me, but my family keeps bugging me to find out, too.''

Even if Casto doesn't make the team this time around, odds are it won't be very long until he cracks the lineup.

"He's 25 years old," Acta said. "If we could get him enough at bats up here, we could keep him if we have a spot for him. If not, he'll be here [in Columbus] to play every single day. We can always come and get him if things don't work out.''

Ready to go: No. 2 starter Shawn Hill looked good in his final spring tuneup, allowing three runs (two earned) in seven innings.

"He's one of those guys who when he throws strikes, he can just cruise,'' Acta said. "He only had 59 pitches by the sixth inning and [Baltimore] had its regular lineup out there today.''

The only real mar in Hill's solid outing was a throwing error in the second that led to the game's first run.

"That and those four singles in a row [in the fifth that led to a pair of runs],'' Hill said. "I was trying to pound the strike zone a little too much. But I feel confident heading into the season.''

The Coop: With its days numbered pending the building a of a new downtown stadium expected to open for the '09 season, Cooper Stadium played host to Thursday's exhibition looking every bit its 75 years.

Yet, Washington snapped up the place when, after 28 years of affiliation, the Yankees left town.

"It's something our organization is trying to do,'' Acta said, "to get as many places close to D.C. as we can. Washington, D.C., is the capital of the United States, and this is the capital of [Ohio], so I think it's a good match.''

That was obvious in all the Yankee memorabilia hanging around the stadium, including photos of Yankees greats Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada.

"No doubt this is a place with a lot of baseball tradition," Acta said.

Most of it is Minor League action, as Cooper Stadium hadn't been home to a game between Major League clubs since 1996, when the last Ohio Cup was played between the Indians and Reds.

Come Opening Day: The ceremonial first pitch will feature a celebration of baseball history in Washington. Hank Thomas, the grandson of Hall of Fame pitcher and Washington Senator Walter Johnson; Mickey Vernon, Washington Senators first baseman from 1939-48 and 1950-55; Audrey Fields, the widow of Homestead Grays ace Wilmer Fields; Chuck Hinton, first baseman and outfielder for the Washington Senators from 1961-64; and Acta, new Nationals manager, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch. District of Columbia mayor Adrian Fenty has also been invited to participate in the first-pitch ceremonies.

Up next: Washington and Baltimore meet again on Friday at 2:05 p.m. ET at Harbor Park in Norfolk, Va., the new Triple-A home of the Orioles. Left-hander Matt Chico gets the call for Washington, while right-hander Jaret Wright takes the mound for Baltimore.

Stephanie Storm is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["spring_training" ] }
{"content":["spring_training" ] }