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Chris Marrero hit .248 in his first 31 big-league games.
But manager Davey Johnson did see Marrero as a potential right-handed bat off his bench to open 2012 after watching the 23-year-old enjoy some modest success during his September call-up.
So the revelation that Marrero tore his left hamstring two weeks ago while playing in the Dominican Republic and had surgery to repair the major injury does throw a wrench into the Nationals' plans.
There's no official timetable for Marrero's recovery, but it's not uncommon for tears like this to sideline a player up to one year. Even in a best-case scenario, he's unlikely to be 100 percent by Opening Day, a tough blow for a Nationals prospect who has dealt with his share of injuries since he was drafted in 2006.
Marrero suffered this latest setback on Nov. 15 when he tried to stretch to receive a throw at first base while playing for the Licey Tigres. He had been enjoying a productive winter ball season, posting a .288 average, 10 RBI and a .387 on-base percentage in 15 games.
Marrero returned to the United States and underwent surgery last week to repair the severe tear. The Nationals have not yet revealed the injury, but a club source confirmed a report that was published last night on MLB.com.
Though this development would seem to take Marrero out of the equation for a spot on the Opening Day roster, it probably won't have a dramatic effect on the Nationals' overall situation at first base.
LaRoche, who missed most of 2011 with a left shoulder tear, is expected to be fully healed by the time he reports to spring training. There's also the possibility that Morse winds up back at first base at some point in 2012, especially if top prospect Bryce Harper reaches the big leagues and is inserted in left field.
Marrero's best shot of making the club figured to be off the bench, though some in the organization may have preferred he play every day at Class AAA Syracuse instead.
This isn't the first significant injury suffered by Marrero. He missed half of the 2008 season at Class A Potomac after breaking his leg and tearing ligaments in his ankle while sliding into the plate.
Marrero stayed healthy over the last three seasons, though, and wound up hitting .300 with 14 homers in 127 games at Class AAA Syracuse this year. That earned him his first cup of coffee in the majors, during which time he batted .248 with five doubles and 10 RBI in 31 September games.
Now he faces another roadblock in his development.