Hobbling Nats making progress

Hobbling Nats making progress

JUPITER, Fla. -- Nationals infielder/outfielder Rob Mackowiak was not happy after Tuesday's 3-0 loss to the Cardinals.

Mackowiak acknowledged he is frustrated that he is inconsistent with the bat and lost track of the ball hit by Ryan Ludwick in the sixth inning. The ball dropped for a double, which put runners on second and third with no outs. The two runs ended up scoring on an Albert Pujols single. It ended up ruining a great outing by left-hander Odalis Perez, who pitched six innings and gave up three runs on seven hits.

"Our pitcher pitched his butt off out there," Mackowiak said. "You play like that [in the outfield], it cost us a couple of runs. It shouldn't be tolerated."

Mackowiak returned to Major League action last week after missing most of the spring because of abdominal problems. He now says he is 100 percent. For the spring, Mackowiak is 3-for-12 with two RBIs. Mackowiak is expected to provide power off the bench this season.

"I feel fine; I played [bad] to be honest with you," he said. "I haven't done anything right all Spring Training. [One] day you feel OK with the bat, but the next day, you struggle. It has been a battle and we continue to work. You try to get better.

"You hope it comes around quicker. It's starting to get frustrating. There are no answers for it. I don't have a reason why. It hasn't come as quick as you want it to come."

Meanwhile, Johnny Estrada played his first Minor League game of the spring and had a single and a double. The Nationals expect him to start the season on the disabled list, but he will be activated two weeks after the season starts.

Don't look for Tim Redding to miss any time. Manager Manny Acta said that Redding's back is feeling much better and is expected to pitch in a Minor League game on Friday.

"He was examined this morning," Acta said of Redding. "The chances are he is going to make his next start."

Redding felt some discomfort in his back as he began warming up during the bottom of the fourth inning of Sunday's exhibition game against the Marlins, but decided to gut it out because he was one of only six pitchers the Nationals brought to the game.

The pain in Redding's back grew worse when he threw a pitch that went under the glove of catcher Paul Lo Duca for a passed ball. As Josh Willingham scored from third, Redding didn't even make it to cover home plate. He doubled over in pain and called for assistant athletic trainer Michael McGowan to come assist him. Acta and pitching coach Randy St. Claire also headed to the mound. A few minutes later, Redding left the game and was replaced by left-hander Ray King.

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