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Nationals excited about spring training opener

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VIERA, Fla. (AP) - The word of the day Friday at the Washington Nationals' training facility was progress while they made final preparations for their first game action of the spring.

The morning brought the arrival of their newest pitching acquisition in right hander Chris Young, as well as the first on-field batting practice session of the spring for third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

Then, the afternoon carted in more welcomed news when starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez learned from the players' association that he'd passed a Major League Baseball-administered drug test given days after his name was listed in a newspaper report as receiving performance-enhancing drugs from a now-closed anti-aging clinic.

It all added up to a jovial mood for Nationals' manager Davey Johnson as they readied to travel north to Port St. Lucie for Saturday's matchup with the New York Mets.

"We've had a good spring so far and we're ready to play some games," said a beaming Johnson.

With just over a month before Opening Day, one of the most welcomed sights for Johnson was easily the productive hitting session for Zimmerman, who said he remains on schedule to be ready for that opener.

Zimmerman said he had taken batting practice in the cage the two previous days, so Friday's on-field session wasn't a leap in his on-going rehab from offseason shoulder surgery.

He said he has also increased his throwing distance to 90 feet.

"Hitting's great. Hitting's farther (along) than throwing, which is expected. Throwing is just gonna take time and we'll go from there," Zimmerman said. "Davey said he might DH me a couple of games ...maybe the second week. Kind of get me going and get me running around a little bit and not have to sit and watch the whole time.

"But I don't think any of us are worried about the amount of at-bats or games. I think everything will be fine."

Then there was Young, who arrived at the complex midmorning having agreed to a minor-league deal with Washington on Thursday.

Young, 33, made 20 starts for the New York Mets in 2012 and finished 4-9 with a 4.15 ERA in 115 innings pitched. But he is still recuperating from 2011 shoulder surgery and has been hampered by shoulder issues since 2010.

He has been invited to participate in camp, but the 6-foot-10 hurler likely won't see the major league roster unless one of the Nationals' starters is injured.

Young has an out-clause in his contract that allows him to potentially veto an assignment to Triple-A. Johnson acknowledged that the clause may make it difficult to retain him entering the regular-season.

Still, both Johnson and general manager Mike Rizzo said they see an upside for the former All-Star.

"As far as I'm concerned, he steps in that hole where if anything happens to any of our starters, he'd be right at the top of the list," Johnson said.

Rizzo said Young's addition is just added strength to the overall pitching corps in the organization.

"We like it - especially seeing some of the guys throw," Rizzo said. "(Ross) Ohlendorf and (Tanner) Roark have shown well. (Yunesky) Maya's thrown well here. So with the addition of Young and possibly some others down the road, we feel that we're gonna be protected in rotation depth."

As for Young, he said he's "as close to that as I could possibly be" in regards to being able to pitch in a game.

He said that his shoulder got to a point over the course of the multiple injuries where "I had to get it fixed."

"It was a long, frustrating process and sort of one, long shoulder injury that I tried to deal with where it got to a point where I had to get it fixed," Young said.

The past few years have been mostly rehab programs, but he said that this year has been a normal throwing program and that his arm strength feels stronger than it did last season.

He's been told by his doctors that most shoulder surgeries like his take a full year to before a person feels completely rehabbed. He was trying to pitch last season after just a year.

Now he feels like he's finally ready to turn the page.

"All in all I'm encouraged about where I am and excited for things to get started," he said.

Notes: Johnson said that it may be another week or possibly even the first week of March before C Wilson Ramos is ready to see game action as a designated hitter. He said the medical staff is being cautious and wants to measure the muscle in his surgically-repaired knee before giving approval. "I think that it's fine to be conservative," he said....Johnson said that RHP Christian Garcia has been diagnosed with strained tendons in wrist and remains day-to-day. Garcia is also awaiting the results of a second opinion.

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Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower.

Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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