WASHINGTON -- Nationals outfielder Justin Maxwell opened a lot of eyes after his callup in September 2007. The first hit of his big league career was a pinch-hit grand slam against Marlins left-hander Chris Seddon.
After that, Maxwell platooned with Ryan Church in center field, and the results were positive. Maxwell wasn't fazed when he faced then-Mets left-hander Tom Glavine. Maxwell hit a solo home run against the future Hall of Famer in a 10-9 victory on Sept. 25. Three days later, with tough Cole Hamels on the mound for the Phillies, Maxwell went 2-for-3.
"It was a dream come true. I learned a lot in my short stint," Maxwell said by phone on Monday night. "I felt like it would help me for 2008. I learned lessons from all the veteran guys. They really helped me with my approach, and understanding certain situations. That helped me a lot."
Although Maxwell, 24, didn't make the big club out of Spring Training this past season, Nationals manager Manny Acta was expecting to see him soon thereafter as a regular in the outfield. Acta often praised Maxwell for the way he handled himself during his short big league stint.
"He is a mature kid -- very smart, good makeup," Acta said after the 2007 season ended. "If he does things right, he'll be here sooner than a lot of people think as an everyday player."
But Acta would never get a chance to see Maxwell in the big leagues in 2008.
While playing right field for Double-A Harrisburg on May 19, Maxwell dove for a ball on the warning track against New Britain and hurt his right wrist. He remained in the game, led off the next inning and lined out. But when he went back to the outfield in the bottom half of the inning, Maxwell couldn't make a throw. Maxwell immediately took himself out of the game.
At first, Maxwell thought rest would heal the wrist injury. He started once more on May 26 before being placed on the disabled list. Maxwell found out later that summer that he fractured his wrist and would miss the rest of the season. The original X-rays last spring didn't show the fracture. Fortunately, Maxwell didn't need surgery to fix the problem.
"It was a bad break," Maxwell said. "There was nothing I could have done to prevent it. I wished things would have turned out differently. The Lord always has a plan. It may not be the way that you think it's going to be. You have to be patient."
Maxwell has been making up for lost time. He was allowed to participate in baseball activities last month and is now playing in the Instructional League in Viera, Fla. Once that ends, Maxwell will play in the Puerto Rican Winter League.
According to assistant general manager Bob Boone, Maxwell got off to a slow start in the Instructional League, but has been a productive hitter of late.
"He came in rusty and was collapsing on his back side when he was taking a swing," Boone said. "He has been working real hard. The [second] day I was there, he hit a home run to left-center. He has looked pretty good the last two days. He has looked real good in center."
It's too early to tell if Maxwell will get a chance to make the big league club next season. It will depend on the moves general manager Jim Bowden makes this offseason. But wherever he goes, Maxwell must play every day, according to Boone.
"We are not sure if he is ready to play in the big leagues," Boone said. "The fact is, Justin has to play every day somewhere.