Initially, Johnson was recovering from a broken right leg, which he injured in a collision with Washington right fielder Austin Kearns on Sept. 23, 2006. After the bone healed, Johnson started taking fielding and hitting practice by June, but his hip would not allow him to move to his left properly on ground balls or hit pitches on the outside part of the plate.
Right after the All-Star break, Johnson had an MRI and bursitis was found inside the hip, and he was given a cortisone shot to relieve the pain. But Johnson continued to have problems fielding ground balls and was sent to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Under the recommendation of Dr. David Lewellen, Johnson will have minor hip surgery on Saturday at Sibley Hospital in Washington.
"The pain never went away in the hip," Johnson said after Thursday's game. "I had to try to keep working and not throw in the towel. It has been a grind. All I could do is push as much as I could."
During the procedure, the doctors will remove hardware, including a steel rod and a small screw, from his hip. Dr. Benjamin Schaffer, the Nationals' physician and orthopedist, is hoping that the removal of the hardware will get rid of the bursitis. After the surgery, Johnson will have light workouts for the next three months. He can't do any pounding on the hip during that period of time.
Schaffer said he is surprised that it has taken Johnson this long to fully recover from his leg injury. The original thought was that Johnson would return by Spring Training, then June or some time after the All-Star break. Schaffer pointed out, however, that Johnson has had a series of setbacks, including right knee problems.
"At this point, take the bull by the horn, get the hardware out, clean up the bursa and give him a chance to be ready for Spring Training," Schaffer said.
Earlier in the day, general manager Jim Bowden wouldn't go into details about surgery, but felt Johnson is not going through another setback.
"The bottom line is, the doctors feel he will come back and make a full recovery. They think he will be ready to go in Spring Training of next year," Bowden said. "This is not a setback. We just couldn't quite get over the hump with his hip. He couldn't get to the ground ball to his left. His hitting has come along great. There is no question in our minds that he made tremendous progress offensively, but the hip was not allowing him to be Nick Johnson."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.