Everybody knew first baseman Nick Johnson would one day have a breakout season. The question was when. Injuries always seemed to get in Johnson's way when it came to having success on the baseball diamond. But that question has finally been answered in 2005 as a member of the Nationals.
Johnson is healthy for the first time in his big-league career and having his best season to date. Entering Sunday's action, Johnson was hitting .329 with eight home runs and a team-leading 39 RBIs. He is in the top 10 in several offensive categories in the National League, including batting average and walks.
Johnson also is one of the best defensive first basemen in the game. It seems like every game he makes a diving play to his left. While Johnson doesn't say much to the media, he is considered by many to be a leader on and off the field.
"Nick Johnson is having his breakout year. All of us that have watched him during his career knew that he had the potential to do this. He never did it prior to this year because of injuries," said Nationals interim general manager Jim Bowden. "He is one of the best hitters in baseball. He is a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman. He is a special human being, not just a special player. He is one of the major reasons we are in first place right now. We knew his day would come.
"Nick is the type of player that Barry Larkin was in his early years. When you look at him and you talk to Nick, you don't realize that he's a leader because he doesn't do it in front of you. He leads behind you. He's a leader because of the way he plays the game. He's a leader with a sense of humor. He's a leader with the way in interacts with the players. He's just a tremendous person on and off the field."
All the more reason Johnson should be considered for the NL All-Star team this summer. The All-Star Game will be played on July 12 at Comerica Park in Detroit, and there is still time to send Johnson to the Midsummer Classic.
Fans can cast votes for Johnson by going to MLB.com or by attending a game at many Major League parks. In the fourth round of balloting, Johnson was not listed among the top five vote-getters at first base in the NL.
"I'm not surprised [that Johnson is consistently good] because he came with that label," manager Frank Robinson said recently. "I think we were too quick to judge Nick Johnson last year because he didn't stay in the lineup very long. I think we just started thinking about the injuries rather than the talent. He is healthy this year and he has been healthy since Spring Training."
Health isn't the only reason Johnson is having a good year. He's made some adjustments at the plate and is no longer vulnerable to inside pitches.
"I feel I'm waiting longer on pitches at the plate instead of just jumping on the ball. It's just a battle every day. It's a grind," Johnson said. "I just do my work and my drills in batting practice and try to bring it into the game."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.