VIERA, Fla. - If Roger Bernadina is concerned that he might get squeezed out of the Nationals’ outfield picture, he isn’t letting on.
In previous years, Bernadina came to camp with an opportunity to win a spot on the 25-man roster. This year, his biggest challenge might be staying with the organization.
The Nationals will carry either four or five outfielders, depending on whether manager Davey Johnson goes with six or seven infielders. Either way, it will be tough for Bernadina to break camp unless he has a monster spring at the plate or someone else ahead of him falters or is hurt.
“It’s always like that,” Bernadina said. “In the couple years since I’ve been here, it’s always been a competition in spring training.”
This year, however, the competition is a little tougher for Bernadina, who didn’t grab the center field job when it was practically handed to him last spring after Nyjer Morgan was traded and ended up hitting .243 with seven homers and 27 RBIs in 96 games, shuttling between Triple-A Syracuse and the majors.
If top prospect Bryce Harper breaks camp as the regular right fielder, the Nationals will probably trot out an outfield of Michael Morse in left, Jayson Werth in center and Harper in right, with Rick Ankiel in reserve and utility infielder Mark DeRosa capable of chipping in time at the outfield corners. That’s the four-outfielder alignment.
If the Nationals opt to keep an extra outfielder at the expense of a spare infielder, Bernadina’s chance improve only a little bit. For balance, Johnson would like another right-handed-hitting outfielder off the bench to complement Ankiel’s left-handed stroke. Bernadina hits from the left side, meaning he could lose out to non-roster outfielders Jason Michaels or Brett Carroll, who are both right-handed hitters. And Johnson still has DeRosa, another right-handed hitter, in reserve.
If Harper doesn’t break camp, it’s Werth in right, Morse in left and Ankiel in center, possibly as half of a platoon.
Whatever the configuration, Bernadina becomes a long shot. Which doesn’t seem to bother him in the least.
“It’s just the same thing as before,” Bernadina said. “I’m going to go about my business and do whatever I can to make the team and to help the ballclub. We’ll see whatever they make the roster.”
His best course of action might be to have a stellar spring and force the Nats’ hand. Because he is out of minor league options, the Nationals would have to expose the 27-year-old Bernadina to waivers in order to send him to the minors. It’s doubtful that Bernadina would clear, since someone would be intrigued by his speed and the potential that he could develop as a power hitter.
So is Bernadina playing for the other 29 clubs or the Nationals?
“Why not?” he said. “I know I can play every day. I’ll say it like this: If they give me a chance to play, I will show them I can play for this organization. If not, there’s other teams out there who can see what I got.”