Bench depth was critical to the Nationals' success last season. This season, the bench got off to a slow start, in part because reserves were not getting enough starts, instead having to settle of occasional pinch-hit appearances or Sunday substitutes.
But with injuries to Jayson Werth, Danny Espinosa and Bryce Harper, the bench spotlight is turned back on. Manager Davey Johnson said the bench will get more starts now. The need for them to excel is critical for the Nationals to stay in the race as May grinds to an end.
That means more playing time for Steve Lombardozzi, Tyler Moore and Roger Bernadina.
"With Werth out, I probably should have done it sooner," Johnson said. "Giving guys regular work in there and getting them feeling comfortable (is important). A lot of these guys are used to being everyday players. It is hard for them to hit coming off the bench and playing sporadically."
Moore has had one hit in three straight games, has collected three walks and has scored twice in last nine at-bats. After Friday's game, Moore said starting certainly makes a difference.
"That is awesome to get some at-bats," Moore said. "When you come into the clubhouse and there is just a different mentality when you know you are going to play. It gets you settled in a little bit more and kind of takes the pressure off. I know I am not a .120 hitter."
Johnson said Moore is starting to get going, including getting close to his second homer of the season against the Phillies.
"I like the at-bats," Johnson said. "I like his approach. If we hadn't of had that gale coming in from left field he probably would have had a home run. He seems to be on more things."
Lombardozzi has had five hits, four RBIs and two runs scored in his last 12 at-bats. He said getting a chance to start changes his preparation.
"It is definitely different," Lombardozzi said. "You can't simulate it in anyway. Everybody wants to get in there and play. That is when you start getting in a groove. When you are on the bench, you have to work even harder to stay ready. It is a good feeling when you start getting some consistent ABs and start feeling comfortable."
It will be a key to the Nationals' overall success this season, Johnson says, to get the likes of Bernadina, Moore, Lombardozzi and Chad Tracy to create some offense, especially with the rash of injuries to players from their opening day lineup.
"Those guys get heated up, then we can withstand some injuries," Johnson said. "(It can become) a strength offensively. Which (it hasn't) been. We have had basically had 25 percent or more of the lineup struggling much all year. That is tough."