Roger Bernadina returned to the majors today, coming back to the Nationals after spending just over a month in the minors. The talented, but inconsistent outfielder didn't do much to right his streaky results at the plate while he was at Triple-A Syracuse, hitting .237 in 28 games. But manager Davey Johnson said he would be happiest to see improvement with another area of Bernadina's game: the routes he takes to balls.
The 27-year-old is athletic enough to close on fly balls and make some spectacular catches, and it's a big reason why fans have given him the nickname "The Shark." But he's also taken some poor jumps that have caused routine balls to fall in for hits, and Johnson wants to trade the excitement for efficiency.
"I passed that along to him on the way down (to the minors), and also talked to (Syracuse manager) Randy (Knorr) about it," Johnson said. "He'd overcome a lot of it, because he's got great speed, but he would actually get really bad jumps. I mean, there was one game here where a ball dropped and there shouldn't have been any reason."
Bernadina was working on his routes to fly balls in batting practice before he went to the minors, and continued to focus on it at Syracuse. Until he improves his tendencies in the outfield, though, it's difficult to see him in the Nationals' long-term plans, especially as a center fielder.
Johnson said Jayson Werth will continue to play center field in September, though Bernadina will also get some games there. Some members of the Nationals' front office believe Bernadina's best position is left field, and his career stats would suggest that; he has a 10.6 UZR in left, compared to a -16.4 mark in center field and a -12.6 rating in right.
If Bernadina turns more routine balls into outs, those numbers can improve quickly, and so can his chances of playing regularly. The Nationals like his speed at the top of the lineup, and believe he can still be effective at least as a fourth outfielder, if not more. But his defense will be what gives him a chance to prove that.
"You always want to be in one place, and I've been up and down," Bernadina said. "For now, I've got to live with it. I wish I could have stayed longer, but for now, that's the way it is."