Broadway will have shot to start at first
Nationals prospect hopes to fill void left by injured Johnson
VIERA, Fla. -- When Manny Acta was interviewing for the Nationals' managerial job last October, one of the players he asked about was first baseman Larry Broadway. Acta was the Expos' third-base coach in 2004, when he first saw the then- 23-year-old first baseman in action.
That year, Broadway played in only eight Spring Training games but he gave a good impression. In early March against the Orioles, for example, Broadway hit a mammoth home run against the wind at Fort Lauderdale Stadium. Later in the week, Broadway had a big base hit in a victory against the Mets.
Broadway, who was taken in the third round of the 2002 First-Year Player draft, has a sweet left-handed swing that reminds some of John Olerud. While he can hit home runs, scouts project him to be more of a doubles-type of hitter.
"He was an impressive hitter when we got him out of the draft. We worked him out after we drafted him," Acta said. "We saw him in camp [in 2004]. He looked impressive as a hitter. He had a pretty good idea of the strike zone and he had a good swing."
A few weeks later, after getting the managerial job, Acta was at the Winter Meetings in Orlando, Fla., when he surprised Broadway with a phone call to tell him that he would be given every opportunity to be in the Major Leagues as a backup first baseman.
"It was nice to get the phone call," Broadway said. "I was kind of surprised because the team was in the middle of Winter Meetings and there is chaos there. It was nice to talk to Manny briefly and get a sense of what's going on."
Two months after receiving that call, Broadway's role on the Nationals became bigger when Nick Johnson announced last Friday that he will not be ready for Spring Training nor the start of the regular season after he fractured his right femur (upper leg bone) in a collision with Austin Kearns against the Mets on Sept. 23 at Shea Stadium. Johnson said he could possibly return to action sometime in June.
Broadway will now get the first crack at being the starter and said that he came to Spring Training with the mindset that he is going to win the starting job while Johnson was out of action.
"I kind of heard through the grapevine [that I would be given a chance to start]," Broadway said. "I've been preparing this offseason for that contingency plan. We all know about the terrible injury to Nick. I'm going to try to fill that role and that void on the team."
He is coming off a season in which he hit .288 with 15 home runs and 78 RBIs for Triple-A New Orleans. His season came to an end on Aug. 20 when he separated his right shoulder fielding a groundball. It was his second major injury of his career -- the previous season Broadway played in only 78 games because of a right knee injury.
Broadway recovered from the shoulder by December and went to the Venezuelan Winter League. Unfortunately, Broadway was overmatched, going 6-for-40 (.150) with 15 strikeouts in 12 games and was sent back to the United States. He acknowledged that he was not in game shape, while the pitchers in the league were in midseason form.
"I was not ready to play, really," Broadway said "I haven't seen live pitching in four and a half months. I just went right in. Basically all of their pitchers were in midseason form. I just wasn't ready. That's the bottom line and it's just took me a while to get going. I wanted to go there and knock the rust off and make sure that everything was good."
Broadway's performance prompted Nationals general manager Jim Bowden to sign Travis Lee and Dmitri Young as insurance, but Acta said is not concerned about Broadway's inability to hit the baseball in winter ball. The skipper cited that Broadway didn't have enough time to learn the league.
Acta pointed out that Mark McGwire was overmatched in winter ball in 1986 and went on to hit a rookie-record 49 home runs and win the American League Rookie of the Year award.
"In winter ball, they don't care who you are and where you come from. It's about winning every single day, Acta said.
"He went out there and Larry didn't know the league and he struggled a little bit. In winter ball, they don't give that much time [to regroup]. They are not going to give you 100 at-bats. By the time they give you 100 at-bats, it's halfway [through the season]. That's not anything to worry about."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.