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Xavier Nady went 1-for-3 and made a couple of nice plays in the field.
With left fielder Michael Morse and first baseman Adam LaRoche still battling injuries, the Nationals decided to take a look today at Nady, the 33-year-old veteran who signed a minor-league deal on March 18 and wasn't expected to see any action in big-league games this spring.
Starting at first base and batting seventh against the Mets, Nady went 1-for-3, striking out in his first two at-bats before singling to center in the top of the seventh. He also made several nice plays at first base, showing the ability both to field grounders hit his way and scoop up off-line throws from his infielders.
And by day's end, Nady had suddenly gone from a one-day cameo to a candidate to win the final spot on the Nationals' bench. Manager Davey Johnson said Nady will stay in big-league camp through the final week of exhibition play and be in the starting lineup again tomorrow against the Braves.
"I don't have any plans for him to go back down there," Johnson said. "He'll stay with us."
Johnson also made it clear Nady is now in competition for a spot on the Opening Day roster, joining the likes of outfielders Brett Carroll and Jason Michaels and first baseman Chad Tracy.
"I know he's very capable," the manager said. "What I was more concerned about [was] the type of hitter he was. It wasn't fresh on my mind. After I saw one round of BP, I knew where he was, and I knew I wanted to see a lot of him with us."
Nady's path to this point has been a winding one. Beset by injuries throughout his career, he twice has undergone Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and also missed time last season with a fractured hand.
Those lingering injury questions left Nady without a job through the entire offseason. In examining the possibilities this winter, he thought the Nationals might make sense, but their signing of veteran center fielder Mike Cameron put an end to those thoughts.
Cameron, though, never donned a Nationals uniform, announcing his retirement before he ever arrived in Viera. So Nady's agent, Scott Boras, stayed in touch with general manager Mike Rizzo and 10 days ago the two sides agreed to a minor-league deal. The Nationals had no plans to bring Nady to big-league camp, and Nady was perfectly comfortable opening the season at Class AAA Syracuse.
"My goal was to try to stay in shape, however long it took to get a job, wherever I was going to be," he said. "And I felt like I did a good job of that. I've been trying to stay pretty active, and you never know what's going to happen. I went to camp, and obviously everything being this late, you have to expedite the process. It's a different situation, but my goal is to get ready."
Johnson ventured over to minor-league camp earlier this week to catch a glimpse of Nady in action. He saw Nady step into the batter's box to face left-hander Danny Rosenbaum. And then he saw Rosenbaum's first pitch plunk Nady in the backside. Moments later, Johnson was summoned back to Space Coast Stadium to record a interview with MLB Network, so he never got a chance to see Nady swing the bat.
Thus, the impetus to bring Nady along for today's game against the Mets.
"He plays outfield and first base," Johnson said. "Last I checked, I had some guys on injured reserve. So why not look at him?"
Indeed, Nady's chance to make the club appear directly tied to the fates of Morse and LaRoche. The latter has been cleared to return to the lineup, so it appears he'll be fine to open the season. Morse, however, needs more time to get himself into shape after missing the last two weeks with a strained lat muscle.
The Nationals have several candidates to start in left field should Morse wind up on the disabled list, led by Roger Bernadina and Mark DeRosa. But Nady could force his way into the mix with a strong week in camp. He could also give LaRoche days off at first base.
"It's unfortunate. I've been on the other side of the spectrum, being hurt and not necessarily knowing the timetable," Nady said. "But my goal is just to obviously be ready, whatever the situation calls for me. And we'll go from there. Whether it's first, outfield or whatever. A lot of things can happen. I'll just stay ready and contribute when my name's called."