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Johnson to be placed on DL
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04/01/2004  6:45 PM ET
Johnson to be placed on DL
First baseman will be out for two to three weeks
Nick Johnson is not expected to play in this week's three-game series against the Phillies. (Scott Audette/AP)

VIERA, Fla. -- Expos first baseman Nick Johnson will start the season on the disabled list because of a lumbar strain, has been told.

It will be the fifth consecutive season in which he was placed on the DL. When Johnson was with the Yankees, he missed a lot of time because of hand, wrist and thumb injuries.

Johnson, 25, has been having back problems for the last couple of weeks, but it grew worse on Tuesday after he made a diving play against the Florida Marlins.

Early Wednesday morning, Johnson was walking normally. By 11:30 a.m., though, he was spotted bending and stretching his back.

"The back is feeling better. I'm on a lot of medication," Johnson said. "I'm not going to make it for Opening Day. [But] I want to get it better for the rest of the [season].

"It's very frustrating [being put on the disabled list]. But you have to move forward and get the back healthy. There's nothing much you can do about it. It happened. My hands felt great. What can you do?"

Johnson is expected to be out of action for two to three weeks.

In the meantime, outfielder Brad Wilkerson will be the everyday first baseman, and Terrmel Sledge and Juan Rivera most likely will platoon in left field.

In fact, Wilkerson has played 50 games during his career at first base without making an error.

Wilkerson was in Wednesday's starting lineup at first base against the Dodgers.

Wilkerson said all spring that he would rather play one position in the outfield, but manager Frank Robinson considers Wilkerson his most versatile player. In fact, Robinson often has referred to Wilkerson as his "ace in the hole."

However, Wilkerson said he really doesn't want to play first, but will do it for the team.

"It calls for me to go to first base. I'm going to focus on working hard getting some groundballs to me as much as I can. It's unfortunate what happened [to Johnson]," Wilkerson said. "It's something I didn't want to do. I know we are a better ballclub with Nick at first base. It's a lot of production we are going to miss from him, and it's unfortunate that it happened so early in the season. Hopefully we can get him back as soon as possible."

If Robinson decides in the future that he wants Wilkerson to be back in the outfield, Sledge can play first base.

On Thursday, Sledge said the Expos told him to continue taking ground balls at first base during practice.

"They can put me anywhere. I just want to be on the team," Sledge said. "They know I can play first, so I'm going to try to work on my game over there so I won't be rusty."

Sledge actually entered Wednesday's game against the Cardinals as a first baseman in the bottom of the fifth inning. He made three putouts and let a bad throw by Andy Fox go by. Fox was charged with an error.

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

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