NEW YORK - MAY 12: Roger Bernadina #2 of the Washington Nationals rounds the bases after hitting his 9th inning go ahead home run against the New York Mets during their game on May 12, 2010 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
In an interview with Syracuse Chiefs' radio announcer Jason Benetti during last night's Stephen Strasburg start, Nats' team President Stan Kasten spoke briefly about the contributions some of the players who've spent time with the Chiefs this season have been able to make at the major league level already early in the 2010 campaign, with Roger Bernadina, in particular, singled out by Mr. Kasten as someone who's, "...done well at every level he's been at in the minor leagues, and he's continued it, and it looks like when he's finally been given this opportunity [to start in RF for the Nats] for a long period of time, looks like he's taken advantage of it."
Bernadina signed with the Montreal Expos in 2001 as an amateur free agent out of high school in Willemstad, Curacao, and the 6'1'' 190lb left-hander spent three years in the Expos' system in the Gulf Coast League and the Class-A South Atlantic League, with the Savannah Sand Gnats, before the Expos left Canada for the nation's capital in 2004, depriving the young outfielder of the opportunity to play for the team that gave him his first contract. "It's something that I always wanted to do, to be a professional," the soon-to-be-27-year-old outfielder told me during an interview on Sunday morning, when I asked if he could talk about what's changed in the organization since he first started to play professionally, "...a lot of things changed here from now and back then," Bernadina said, "....a lot of things change....but I'm excited about right now [to play] with the Nationals, but for me, I always wanted to play for the Expos in the major leagues but that never happened..."
Bernadina spent most of his time in the minors in center field, and when he made his MLB debut on June 29, 2008, it was in center as a replacement for former Nats' outfielder Lastings Milledge, but with Nyjer Morgan in center now, and Josh Willingham firmly established in left, the oppportunity this season was in right, where Bernadina, Justin Maxwell, Willie Harris, Willy Taveras and even Cristian Guzman have battled for playing time since the season started. With just one game's experience in right at the major league level, Bernadina's had little problem adjusting to right field, "I trust my glove and I trust my speed...you just go out there and do it, because it's a feeling you've got, a confidence."
After failing to make the Opening Day roster out of Spring Training, Bernadina went down to Triple-A Syracuse and hit .377/.426/.541 with 2 doubles, 2 HR's, 8 RBI's and 7 steals in 14 games and 61 at bats before he was called back up to DC in the second week of April. "They sent me down because last year I broke my ankle, but I was motivated anyway because I missed most of the season last year, I was motivated wherever they sent me. I just went back to the minor leagues and showed them that I belonged here." In 23 games since joining the Nationals, Bernadina's put up a .279/.324/.471 slash line with 3 doubles, 2 triples, 2 HR's, 12 RBI's and 2 stolen bases in 23 games and 68 at bats.
Asked which coaches have had the biggest influence on his development, Bernadina cites a name from the franchise's Montreal past as one of many who've helped him on his way up, "...every year I've [had] new coaches," including, back in 2007 with Harrisburg Senators, "...Tim Raines, who was hitting coach. I learned some from him and this year I learned some from Rick Eckstein, every year it's somebody who you can pick little things to get better with." The scouting report on Bernadina is that he has trouble hitting breaking balls, but in what is arguably the best game of his major league career, a two home run game in New York in which he hit a game winning HR off Mets' closer Francisco Rodriguez, it was a fastball in an 0-1 count from a pitcher known for having a devastating slider that earned Bernadina his biggest moment in the spotlight so far in his nine major league seasons. "I don't want to look for a breaking ball early in the count...he threw me a first pitch breaking ball, I was waiting for my fastball all day til I got it, and you know, he wanted to throw it by me but I was looking for it."
Willy Taveras has been released. Willie Harris hasn't hit yet, and Justin Maxwell's been impressive in flashes but unable to sustain any success he's had. I had both Bernadina and Maxwell penciled in on the Nats' Opening Day roster, thinking that now that they're in the mid-20's Washington needs to finally find out what they've got in the two talented but unproven outfielders. So far it's been Bernadina who's seized the opportunity, as Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman said recently though, in an interview with Rob Dibble and Jim Memolo on Sirius/XM MLB Network Radio's "First Pitch":
"...[Bernadina's] somewhat inexperienced, but he's not a kid. Roger's 25, 26-years-old, so it's his time. It's time to find out if he's going to be a regular for us in the big leagues, and we really want that to happen."