Willingham can now focus on baseball

Willingham can now focus on baseball

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Nationals outfielder Josh Willingham arrived at Space Coast Stadium on Wednesday afternoon after he spent more than a week with his son, Ryder, who was born on Feb. 23.

After talking to teammates, Willingham immediately worked out and took batting practice before he called it a day.

Willingham said on Thursday that his son is expected to be released from the hospital this weekend. Ryder had some difficulty breathing because of fluid in his lungs, but he took a turn for the better last Saturday. It was that day when Willingham and his wife, Ginger, were able to hold and feed him.

"He is doing a lot better," Willingham said. "He will get to come home sometime this weekend -- Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Anytime you have somebody you love that is in pretty serious condition, it's definitely taxing, mentally and physically. We were away from home for a week and in the hospital all day.

"We never really worried about him to the point where he could die. He was in intensive care for a long time, because he needed help breathing. It's definitely taxing on you though."

Willingham is now concentrating on getting in baseball shape and acknowledged that he needs to work on his legs. He most likely will not play in a game until Monday against the Marlins.

Manager Jim Riggleman didn't rule out Willingham getting two at-bats against the Mets on Sunday.

"I've been able to hit in the offseason," Willingham said. "Everything is in shape. It just takes you a while to get in baseball shape."

Willingham is slated to be the everyday left fielder and bat fifth in the batting order. Last season, he hit .260 with 24 home runs and 61 RBIs. Not bad for a guy who spent the first two months of the season on the bench.

Now that he's playing every day, Willingham expects to put up even better numbers in 2010.

"When I play every day during the course of a whole season, I expect my numbers to be there," Willingham said. "I've always been a guy that has hit for power, a high on-base and slugging percentage. I feel, offensively, I can do a lot of things to help the team win. That's what I expect to do."

For weeks, Riggleman said he would love to give Willingham some time off after the outfielder ended the season in a slump, going 14-for-90 (.133) with four RBIs in his final 26 games. The skipper also wants to rest Willingham, because the 31-year-old is often plagued by back problems. Now, Riggleman is not so sure he will give Willingham the time off that is needed.

"Willingham said, 'My back felt better than ever, I'm not tired.'" the skipper said. "So, it's going to be interesting to watch."

One thing Willingham wants to do is improve his defense. He sometimes has problems tracking down balls that are hit over his head. Willingham said he and the team must make the routine plays to win.

"You have to be consistent," Willingham said. "I'm not going to be Nyjer Morgan in left field, but I have to make the routine plays, and I have to make all of them. As an outfielder, you have to throw the ball to the right base. When you have someone like Nyjer in center, it's not like I have to run 50 yards and catch the ball. I need to be able to make routine plays, and when you get a chance to make a great play, you make some of those."

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