KISSIMMEE, Fla. - As we inch closer and closer to opening day - and we're now under the two-week mark until the real games have arrived - guys are running out of chances to impress manager Davey Johnson and try and earn one of the final couple spots on the Nationals' roster.
Things are made a little murky by the injuries to left fielder Michael Morse and first baseman Adam LaRoche, which might open another position or two on the 25-man roster if those guys need to start the season on the DL. But regardless, Johnson is starting to make plans for how his bench will be constructed and in which situations each player could be used.
He'll continue to get a look at the candidates (Steve Lombardozzi, Roger Bernadina, Brett Carroll, Chad Tracy and Jason Michaels) over these final 12 spring games, but is pleased with the competition to this point.
"I like where it's coming along," Johnson said. "I'm really impressed with the progression of some of the guys here. Lombardozzi, he's looked great for me. Tracy's coming along. He's getting better, I think he's getting more comfortable. Brett Carroll, I like what I'm seeing there. And I've had the opportunity to get a better look and have a better read for all the guys competing, because with the number of guys I've had out (due to injury). Michaels has been a good bat.
"That final decision's going to come down to how I'm going to use them and what they can do."
If healthy, Ankiel appears set to be Johnson's opening day center fielder, leaving Bernadina, Carroll and Michaels battling for what might be two reserve outfield spots (again, another could open if Morse has to miss regular season action). Bernadina appears to have a job all but locked up, and listening to Johnson, it appears Carroll might be approaching that "lock" status, as well.
Carroll's versatility and the fact that he's right-handed gives Johnson options late in the game or in a platoon role.
"Let's say Ankiel's my center fielder, I'd like a right-handed equivalent of a center fielder for some possible help out there," Johnson said. "Ank's going to get more at-bats against left-handers as we go, but if you're working on what I saw last year, he was better against right-handed pitchers. So I don't like to platoon, but I would look for guys that could possibly fill that role."
Johnson said he'd be willing to use whichever catcher doesn't start that particular night - either Wilson Ramos or Jesus Flores - in a pinch-hit role as a righty off the bench, but that would be predicated on having a capable emergency catcher. Jayson Werth has tried to toss his hat into that ring ("I wanted to say, 'We have enough problems between you and I without me putting you behind the dish,' " Johnson joked), but Carroll might be the leader in the clubhouse, so to speak, for that gig.
"I had (first base coach) Trent (Jewett) go ask him if he would ever put on those tools," Johnson said of Carroll. "He said, 'In a heartbeat. I caught some in high school.' He gets another check in his category. That's the kind of versatility I want to free up the way I want to be - offensive oriented."
Johnson will begin playing his regular starting lineup more over these next few days, letting guys like Ryan Zimmerman and Werth get a chance to work a full nine innings before the season starts.
"I want to see them as a unit and make sure they're all where I think they are," he said. "Getting them used to them playing with each other as a group."
Johnson also added that while closer Drew Storen will get some time off to rest his inflamed right elbow, Storen likely won't need to miss all that much time.
"I would say he probably wouldn't get back on the mound in a game (for) probably a week," Johnson said. "But his arm's in great shape.
Johnson thinks Storen will rest completely for 2-3 days, then begin light throwing. If all goes well, he could be able to get back in a game sometime next week.
"He should be fine to open the season," Johnson said.
One final injury note, for now: Johnson said Morse, who is battling a lat strain, could start throwing again by Monday and doing baseball activities.