Notes: Possible setback for Johnson

Notes: Possible setback for Johnson

WASHINGTON -- Nationals first baseman Nick Johnson may have suffered a setback in his quest to return to the baseball diamond in 2007. He is headed to New York to check on his sore right hip. Johnson will see Dr. Brian Kelly, who works for the NFL's New York Giants, on Friday.

Johnson has not played since Sept. 23, 2006, when he broke his right leg in a collision with right fielder Austin Kearns against the Mets at Shea Stadium. While the bone in the leg has healed, Johnson continues to have problems with the hip.

Johnson has been taking batting practice, fielding ground balls and running the bases, but he has been limited in what he can do. When he is fielding ground balls, for example, Johnson can't go to his right very well. He also limps whenever he tries to stop at a base. According to general manager Jim Bowden, Johnson has problems hitting certain pitches in the zone.

In fact, Bowden has not ruled out Johnson missing the entire season. Bowden used the example of former outfielder Ron Gant, who broke his right leg in a motorcycle accident in early 1994. It took Gant an entire season to recover. Bowden said Gant also had hip problems during his recovery.

"We want to make sure that we have looked at every piece of medical information possible as Nick continues with the process," Bowden said. "Ron Gant took a year to come back. It may be that Nick may need more time to heal. I don't want to leave anything untouched. It's just precautionary. We want to make sure that we get one more opinion. We just can't get over the hump with the hip. I won't be able to tell you when he comes back until he's able to go on a rehab assignment."

Great play: Ryan Zimmerman showed on Thursday night why he is one of the best defensive third basemen in the game. In the eighh inning, with two outs, Cubs infielder Cesar Izturis hit a foul ball near the stands near the Nationals' dugout. Zimmerman made a running catch while falling on the tarp at the same time.

"I just ran back and went after it. I had room. The tarp is better than diving on the ground," Zimmerman said.

Said manager Manny Acta about the catch, "A tremendous catch. He goes after every single one. He gives 100 percent. That's why he is going to be special -- struggling or not. He plays the game hard. He gives you everything he has every single day."

On the bench: Outfielder Ryan Church was given the day off for the second day in a row on Thursday because Cubs left-hander Sean Marshall started the game. The left-handed-hitting Robert Fick started again in left field.

Church is hitting .217 (15-for-69) with no home runs against lefties this season. According to Church, hitting coach Lenny Harris wants his stance to be in a more straight-up position, as he's been lunging at balls too often.

Draft news: Bowden acknowledged that negotiations between the team and pitcher Josh Smoker are not progressing. If Smoker doesn't sign, the Nationals would get an extra pick in next year's Draft. Bowden has not ruled out signing a player from Dominican Republic and letting Smoker play for Clemson.

Stat of the day: The Nationals are 8-8 when catcher Jesus Flores starts behind the plate.

Did you know? Since joining the Nationals on May 2, Ryan Langerhans has a .345 on-base percentage, which ranks third on the team.

Coming up: The Nationals begin a three-game series against the Brewers on Friday at 7:05 p.m. ET at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium. The last time these two teams met was in early May, with the Brewers sweeping the three-game series at Miller Park.

In the opener, Washington left-hander Mike Bacsik will face Milwaukee right-hander Dave Bush.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.