WASHINGTON -- When speaking with first baseman Nick Johnson, it's obvious that he is a happy man. His right leg and hip are feeling much better, and he most likely will be ready for Spring Training.
The news comes a few months after the doctors removed hardware, including a steel rod and a small screw, from Johnson's hip. In addition, he has lost 10 pounds this offseason.
The return of Johnson, who missed the entire 2007 season after he broke his right leg in a collision with outfielder Austin Kearns on Sept. 23, 2006, would be a tremendous boost to a club that was last in runs scored and 12th in the National League in defense. Johnson is known to have a high on-base percentage and is considered one of the better glove men in baseball.
"Things are going real well. I have therapy three days a week," Johnson said by phone recently. "I'm trying to get healthy and ready to play [this season]."
Before going to Spring Training in Viera, Fla., Johnson is expected to test his leg by running the bases and fielding ground balls on a field in Northern California.
Johnson's return would mean that Dmitri Young would join Aaron Boone as one of the go-to guys off the bench. There was talk of Young playing the outfield, but manager Manny Acta said that was not going to happen.
Young served as an excellent replacement for Johnson, hitting .320 and winning the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award, which was voted on by MLB.com writers. He also became a leader on the team.
Getting better: The Nationals have made a lot of moves, and they are not finished, as they are still looking for bench strength from the left-handed side of the plate. According to a baseball source, Washington has an interest in outfielder Willie Harris, who was non-tendered by the Braves on Wednesday night. Harris hit .270 with 17 stolen bases in 117 games this past season for Atlanta.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.