When Rick Ankiel first rolled his wrist May 2, spraining it as he tried to make a pair of diving catches, the Nationals said he’d be back in the lineup within a day or two. Then that turned into several days, a trip to the disabled list and Wednesday’s news that Ankiel is going to the team’s extended spring training in Florida to rehab the injury.
That means one of two things - or possibly both of the following things: Ankiel’s injury is worse than the Nationals thought, or the team isn’t in any hurry to rush him back.
The second point is of particular interest to two players whom fans have been pushing to see for the last two seasons: Roger Bernadina and Michael Morse. Morse was last year’s off-the-bench darling, and won the starting left field job after hitting nine homers this spring, while Bernadina is getting a dry run as the Nationals’ center fielder and leadoff hitter with Ankiel on the disabled list.
The news Ankiel needs more time is beneficial to both players; Morse is trying to right himself at the plate after an April slump put him in a platoon with Laynce Nix, while Bernadina needs to prove he can avoid falling into the long slumps that dotted his season last year.
I get the sense Morse might not be part of the Nationals’ long-term plans, but for a team short on power at the moment - particularly from the right side - he’s going to get his chances. He was in the lineup last night, going 2-for-4 with a double, and he’s got four hits in his last eight at-bats. He’s striking out far too much (29 percent of the time), but he’s hitting .409 since the start of May, and looks like he’s starting to drive the ball.
And Bernadina is looking at an extended audition in center field after he got one in right field last year. He was batting .285 at the end of June last year, but hit .221 in 79 games after that. The Nationals would love to have his athleticism in the lineup if he can be more consistent - he went through too many stretches last year where he looked lost - and so far, he’s added some things to his game, bunting for an occasional base hit and drawing six walks in 12 games to raise his on-base percentage to .383.
When Ankiel returns, the Nationals will have some decisions to make - they’ll have four outfielders (Bernadina, Morse, Ankiel and Laynce Nix) fighting for playing time at two positions. It’s possible to keep all four on the roster, especially while Jerry Hairston Jr.’s playing time is coming in the infield, but manager Jim Riggleman would have to find enough at-bats to keep them all sharp.
For at least another week or two, though, Bernadina will be the center fielder, and Morse will probably find more at-bats as the team plays an interleague series this weekend. There’s a little more time for each player to make an impression.