Bench battle

VIERA, Fla. - When Davey Johnson assumed the helm of the Nationals last June, one of the first things he asked for was a right-handed hitter “with hair on his chest.” He wanted a guy off the bench who was a threat to go deep. What he got was Jonny Gomes, a power-hitting veteran who managed three home runs and 12 RBIs in 93 at-bats.

The focus changed somewhat last winter, and the Nats decided they needed more left-handed punch, and Chad Tracy was signed to a minor league contract. Tracy, who will turn 32 in May, has 79 big league home runs, but 47 of those came over two seasons, 2005-06, with Arizona, the team that drafted Tracy out of East Carolina. Since then, Tracy’s offensive output has stalled as his playing time diminished.

He left the D-Backs as a free agent after the 2009 season and split 2010 between the Cubs and Marlins. He spent 2011 in Japan as a part-timer with the Hiroshima Carp before signing with the Nats in December.

Tracy’s had a reasonably good spring training with the Nationals. He leads the team in RBIs entering today’s game with the Yankees with eight, and has played a reasonably solid first base. He has also played third and all three outfield spots in the major leagues.

Tracy has a history with Nats general manager Mike Rizzo, which may or may not have significance. Spring training stats are notoriously unreliable predictors of regular season production, but Tracy’s been around the block and knows the whole March drill. He knows he’s not here to supplant a regular.

You may be aware that there’s another player named Chad Tracy. The other Chad, in camp with the Colorado Rockies, is also a first baseman, though he’s right-handed all the way. He’s yet to play a game at the big league level, though his chances may improve with Colorado, where his father, Jim Tracy, is the manager.

The Nats’ Tracy has averaged 17 home runs every 162 games in the big leagues, which can’t be overlooked. Still, the criteria for selecting bench players seems rather non-specific. With little more than three weeks left before the opener in Chicago, he’s still in the picture, and that may be all he can ask for at this point.