Johnson looking hard at lefties

KISSIMMEE, Fla. - New Nationals right-hander Edwin Jackson will be on a pitch count of 40-45 for today's Grapefruit League opener against the Astros.

Houston will send very few "names" against Jackson today, unless Jack Cust and Jed Lowrie are your idea of stud big leaguers.

Manager Davey Johnson wrote up a lineup dominated by left-handed hitters today, largely because the Nats will face right-hander Livan Hernandez, but also because Johnson wants to get a look at some of the lefties who have a shot to crack the opening day roster.

"It's no secret that I'm looking for a little more of a left-handed presence," Johnson said. "We could've used a little better left-handed bench last year. We had Nixy (Laynce Nix) and we had (Matt) Stairs, but I think they probably hit about .050 between them. And the right-handed side wasn't much better."

The lower-profile lefties (we can leave Bryce Harper out of this discussion) in play for one of the Nats' final roster spots include Rick Ankiel, Brett Carroll, Mark Teahen and Chad Tracy.

Ankiel, Tracy and Teahen will start today.

"I want them competing against the same kind of (pitchers). Their numbers will be reflective of how they do against the same kind of competition," Johnson said. "It's not so much about winning these games, it's about letting these guys compete, No. 1 for a spot on the 25-man, and then No. 2, a possible spot as one of my eight everyday players. So we've got a month, and that's something I'll be looking at hard and heavy."

While a lot of the spring chatter among local and national reporters has been about Harper, Johnson has his eyes elsewhere most of the time. The group of lefties listed above will get a big chance to impress and grab a spot over this next month.

One of the guys impressing early on is Carroll, a 28-year-old who appeared in just two major league games last year and spent most of 2011 with the Triple-A affiliates of the Red Sox and Brewers.

"I like Carroll's makeup, I like the way he's swinging the bat, and he can play all three outfield positions," Johnson said. "All that stuff is not going unnoticed by me.

"I like him. He's got a good, solid stroke, gap-to-gap. Hits the ball on a line. Good makeup."

Dan Kolko was named MASNsports.com's Nationals beat writer after spending the last four years covering the Baltimore Ravens for MASN and also serving as the Web site's deputy managing editor. A University of Delaware graduate originally from Silver Spring, Md., Dan grew up a die-hard baseball fan and is thrilled for the opportunity to cover the Nationals. Before joining MASN, Dan worked in production at Comcast SportsNet in Bethesda, Md., and also interned at the nationally syndicated "George Michael Sports Machine" in Washington, D.C.

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