Nationals hoping for a healthy start

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Brian McNally

Unlike last year, Washington has its full lineup

If the Nationals have untapped potential heading into 2013, it resides on the white board in the hallway just outside their locker room.

There, the names of manager Davey Johnson's starters for Monday's anticipated Opening Day game against the Florida Marlins will be written in a steady hand. Too often last season the men he wanted to mark on that board were absent.

The bench filled in nicely while Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond, among many others, sat with various injuries. But it wasn't the same. Washington scored 731 runs last season. That was enough for a respectable 10th in the majors. But before the All-Star break -- over half the season (83 games) -- the Nats were 20th in that category.

Opening Day
Marlins at Nationals
Ricky Nolasco vs. Stephen Strasburg
When » Monday, 1:05 p.m.
Where » Nationals Park
TV » MASN, Ch. 9

"I tip my hat. A lot of guys played up to their potential. We had some key injuries, and a lot of guys that weren't expected to play big roles played big roles," Johnson said. "But it's all about where every player is individually. Don't worry about the team. You take care of No. 1 and let me worry about the whole. And what I've seen is that's what happened."

Zimmerman struggled through agonizing shoulder pain and spent 15 days on the disabled list in late April and early May. It took three cortisone shots before he started feeling better and another later in the season, but he took off starting with a June 24 game in Baltimore. His second half was dominant (.319 batting average, 17 home runs, .945 OPS).

And he was far from the only piece missing or playing hurt. Washington lost Werth for three months to a broken left wrist May 6. Slugger Michael Morse didn't play until June?2 because of a lat muscle tear in his back. Catcher Wilson Ramos tore ligaments in his knee May 12 and was lost for the season. Closer Drew Storen had elbow surgery in spring training and didn't return until July 19. Shortstop Ian Desmond missed 28 games in July and August with an intercostal strain in his rib cage.

Johnson improvised in the second half. Werth returned in early August and instantly became an unconventional leadoff batter. That's unnecessary now with the acquisition of leadoff man and center fielder Denard Span. Werth will bat second, and Bryce Harper moves to third in the order. Zimmerman is the new cleanup batter with re-signed first baseman Adam LaRoche now fifth. Desmond is in the sixth spot, and second baseman Danny Espinosa is seventh. That's a player who hit 17 home runs last year. Wilson Ramos and Kurt Suzuki will share catching duties and bat eighth.

Maybe the best thing about that batting order? It is almost perfectly balanced. Span is a lefty, Werth a righty. Harper is a lefty and Zimmerman a righty. LaRoche is a lefty, Desmond a righty. And Espinosa is a capable switch hitter.

"We're not perfect yet. But the improvement, to a man, on the way we attack the fastball is so much improved from two years ago," Johnson said. "Our lineup is not easy to match up against. It's gonna be tough."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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