ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Nick Johnson stood out Saturday in leading Washington to a 5-4 victory against Tampa Bay as he topped the batting order for the third consecutive day.

Still, manager Frank Robinson isn't ready to cast the first baseman as his leading man.

Robinson will prolong the drama until Sunday night, when he plans to reveal who will take the historic first stroll to the plate Monday afternoon in the inaugural season opener at Philadelphia.

Johnson went 3-for-4, homered, scored twice and drove in two runs as the Nationals edged the Devil Rays for the second consecutive day. In three games leading off, Johnson is 4-for-12 with two home runs and four RBIs.

Johnson surely won't be a fixture atop the lineup card during the regular season.

"It's just good seeing Nick swing the bat well," Robinson said. "We'll find him a spot in the lineup. I had him up there mostly to give him the extra at-bats."

That may set the stage for outfielder Brad Wilkerson on Monday.

"I talked with Brad in the first part of Spring Training and told him there was a possibility that he might be leading off this year," Robinson said. "That was just giving him a heads up so it wouldn't be sprung on him at the last moment."

Hit show: The Nationals broke out of a batting slump with 14 hits, their most since collecting that total against the Astros on March 6.

The club was coming off a 10-game stretch with a collective .215 batting average.

"You can struggle hitting, but if you're moving runners and doing all the little things, you can still score a few runs," hitting coach Tom McCraw said before Saturday's game. "That's what we're going to have to focus on, because we're not getting that bam, bam, bam, bam, bam."

Washington got that in the sixth inning off starting pitcher Rob Bell. Ryan Church led off with his first homer of the spring. With one out, the top of the order then delivered four consecutive singles.

"Maybe it's the regular park that brought out the best in us -- the Major League park -- because that's the best we've swung the bats this spring," Robinson said. "That's a good sign. Maybe it's coming around just in time."


Welcome back: Radio voice Charlie Slowes was in familiar surroundings in the Tropicana Field press box. He spent the past seven seasons as a Devil Rays broadcaster alongside Paul Olden, who also sought employment with the Nationals as a television broadcaster.

"It feels good, actually," Slowes said. "I never got to say goodbye to a lot of people because we didn't know all winter how it was going to play out."

Slowes, who called Washington Bullets games for 11 seasons, and new partner David Shea signed one-year deals with the Nationals in February.

Less welcome: Vinny Castilla, a disappointment offensively in portions of two seasons with the Devil Rays, was booed each time he was introduced and was the prime target of a loud heckler seated behind home plate.

Castilla, who hit .219 with eight home runs in 109 games for Tampa Bay during the 2000 and 2001 seasons, drew a thunderous cheer by stranding two runners with a strikeout in the sixth.

Nats bits: Esteban Loaiza didn't allow a baserunner until Travis Lee singled to center with one out in the fifth inning. Two of the next three batters also collected base hits as Tampa Bay took a 1-0 lead. ... Terrmel Sledge (calf strain) and Jose Guillen (flu-like symptoms) returned after sitting out Friday.

Quote of the day: "I'd be surprised. I'll just come to the park and check it out and go get prepared." -- Johnson on his chance to become the first batter in team history

Coming up: The curtain comes down on the exhibition season with a Sunday afternoon dress rehearsal at RFK Stadium against the Mets. Tomo Ohka (1-1, 2.37 ERA) will make his fifth spring start for Washington. Fellow right-hander Victor Zambrano (2-1, 7.62) gets the ball for New York.