Rick Ankiel is still limited to swinging off a tee at the moment, and manager Jim Riggleman hinted it’s unlikely the center fielder will return as early as he’s able to come off the disabled list next week. But from the standpoint of delaying decisions, that might be a good thing.
The Nationals have been using Roger Bernadina as their leadoff hitter and center fielder, and Riggleman said earlier this week he wouldn’t mind if Bernadina grabs that job on a permanent basis. If that happens, it would leave Ankiel, Laynce Nix and Michael Morse to fight over playing time in left, as well as scraps of time in center and right. The Nationals don’t have to make any decisions yet, but they’re probably not far off.
Nix has been getting most of the starts in left field lately with Morse recovering from a sore right knee. But that’s had less to do with the decision to play Nix lately than the fact the 30-year-old has been hitting well; he’s 6-for-17 in his last four games, and the team is 10-5 when he starts.
Morse, who grabbed the left field job after hitting nine homers in spring training, seems to be somewhat in limbo. And Riggleman said that might be a better place for him; Morse broke out last year in a reserve outfielder role, hitting 15 homers when he rarely knew when he’d be playing.
“It’s amazing how hot he was in spring training and how he played for us last year,” Riggleman said. “Disappointment’s not the word I would use, but I don’t really have an explanation other than sometimes, there are players that are just a little more comfortable coming to the ballpark and seeing if they’re playing, where they’re playing, where they’re hitting, rather than the norm. Most guys are the other way, but Mike might be one of those guys who’s a little more comfortable moving around to different positions, different spots in the lineup.”
The 29-year-old is hitting .235 with a pair of homers. But while he’s not starting at the moment, Riggleman said nothing is set in left field.
When Ankiel comes back, though, the Nationals will probably have to make some decisions. They’ll have too many outfielders they want playing on a regular basis, and other than optioning Bernadina back to Triple-A Syracuse, they won’t have many places to put them all.
“When Rick comes back,” Riggleman said, “that’s a decision we’ll have to make.”