Kearns ready to battle for outfield spot

Kearns ready to battle for outfield spot

WASHINGTON -- Nationals right fielder Austin Kearns said recently the 2008 season was forgettable.

Besides watching his team lose 102 games, Kearns missed a huge chunk of the season because of bone spurs in his right elbow and a stress fracture in his left foot. The latter injury forced him to miss the final 31 games of the season. Kearns ended up hitting a career-low .217 with nine home runs and 32 RBIs.

"It was kind of a tough year. It's just something you have to learn from and get better from it," Kearns said.

As far as the foot goes, Kearns said he doesn't have any problems with it now and he is able to work out. He is running and lifting weights without any limitations. He is hoping to start baseball activities within a month.

In 2009, however, Kearns may find himself fighting for an everyday job. With the acquisition of Josh Willingham, the Nationals are loaded with corner outfielders, which include Wily Mo Pena, Lastings Milledge, Willie Harris and Elijah Dukes.

Kearns said he is not thinking about his role with the team right now and has dealt with a similar situation when he was with the Reds. In 2005, for example, Kearns was in a crowded outfield that featured Pena, Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey Jr. and Ryan Freel. Kearns ended up playing 112 games that year.

"I've been through that stuff before with a crowded outfield. Those things usually play themselves out," Kearns said.

One of those Reds outfielders is a close friend of Kearns' and they may be teammates again. Dunn is a free agent and the Nationals have expressed interest in the left-handed slugger. If the Nationals sign Dunn, he most likely would play first base. Dunn hit at least 40 home runs in each of the last five years.

Kearns talked about how good it would be to have Dunn on the roster.

"Everybody likes the power and he walks. He is just a presence in the lineup," Kearns said. "You know he is going knock in his runs. You don't have to worry about that. He has stayed healthy, so he is going to be in there every day."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.