Willingham says knee is good; willing to play first base

Nationals left fielder Josh Willingham is rehabbing well from knee surgery and will be 100 percent for spring training.

“The knee is good,” Willingham said. “I rehabbed it for the first three weeks in Washington. They said go home and do it so I rehabbed it for three more weeks (in Alabama). Since I have been done with rehab I took some time off and then started working out again and everything is good. I am 100 percent.”

Willingham remembers when he first got hurt and how the knee gradually started to deteriorate as the season wound down.

“I did it probably late April with stuff from the cartilage damaged,” Willingham said. “It bothered for two weeks then the pain subsided for a month and a half. But later in the season I slid into second base and that did it. From late July and on it was really bad. It finally got to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore.

“Obviously no one wants to get hurt. I think the production was there. I felt pretty good about the power numbers. The RBIs were pretty consistent and the on-base percentage was probably the best of my career. I was pretty happy. If I could have played the final two months, my numbers are going to be there in the end. Unfortunately, I go hurt and I had to miss the last 40 or 50 games.”

Nationals improved by 10 games in 2010, and Willingham says they can get better this upcoming season, even without guys like Stephen Strasburg and Adam Dunn.

“We played a lot better in [2010]. I think the team will consistently get better. I was encouraged by some things that I saw and there are some things that need to keep improving. I think the future looks good, though.”

With Dunn agreeing to a deal with the White Sox, Willingham can play first base, and he says he can do it and play it well.

“I have probably played more infield in my career than outfield, just not in the big leagues,” Willingham said. “Since I have gotten to big leagues I have primarily played left field. I probably played more infield during my minor league career.

Willingham says he would need to practice at the first base position to get back up to speed after so much time in the outfield.

“I think it would take a little while because I haven’t played the position for awhile. I know all the nuances of the position, but if you don’t field a ground ball for a few years, it would take a little time to get back into the swing of things. If they asked me to do it I would have no problem doing it.”

Willingham says the Nats can take another step forward after improving a bit in 2010.

“I think so,” Willingham said. “You have to completely trust Mike Rizzo and the crew that goes out and decides where the team is going and what direction. We are going to have to go out and get some pieces of the puzzle, like starting pitching. Our bullpen was a lot better than in 2010. Our lineup was better, but there are always those pieces that makes your team better and that will allow you to focus on what will help us compete every day.”

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