WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 01: Roger Bernadina #2 of the Washington Nationals hits a home run in the sixth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Nationals Park on July 1, 2011 in Washington, DC. The Nationals won the game 2-1. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Roger Bernadina's not lacking for confidence, and it's unlikely that one line in a wide-ranging press conference influenced his production on the field last night, but it will be interesting to see what effect new Nats' Skipper Davey Johnson's endorsement of the so-called "Shark" as the Nationals' everyday center fielder has on the 27-year-old outfielder. When Bernadina talked to Federal Baseball last year about getting called up to Washington after he'd started the season in Triple-A Syracuse, the Curacao-born Montreal Expos' international free agent signing was quick to point out that he'd been sent down at least in part because of the injury he'd suffered the previous season:
"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."
Bernadina looked like he did belong in the big leagues in the first half of the 2010 season, but slowed down considerably in the second half of the schedule. Bernadina arrived at Spring Training this year ITBSOHL, but he struggled at the plate, with 12 hits and 12 K's in 53 Spring Training at bats, and with the center field job up for grabs, lost out to Rick Ankiel, Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman's choice as Washington's Opening Day center fielder.
A wrist injury earlier in the year and a strain of Ankiel's intercostal muscle (rib cage), gave Bernadina opportunities to show what he could do in center, but he put up a .229/.289/.301 slash line with three doubles and one HR in May. When Ankiel suffered the strain of his intercostal muscle, however, Bernadina turned it on. Ankiel went down on June 14th, Bernadina was already being given the opportunity to play regularly, but following Ankiel's injury, he collected hits in seven-straight games, and Bernadina finished the month of June 27 for 97 with two doubles, three home runs and a .278/.327/.412 slash.
Ankiel came off the DL Friday, with Jerry Hairston, Jr. down with a fractured wrist, but before the game against Pittsburgh, new Nats' Skipper Davey Johnson made it known that the 31-year-old veteran would be a 4th outfielder, with Bernadina continuing to get the bulk of playing time in center. Bernadina's been the leadoff man in each of the four games Johnson's managed and he's back at the top of the order this afternoon in the first game of the Nats' doubleheaders with the Bucs.
0 for 16 over four games heading into the series opener with the Pirates, Bernadina went 2 for 3 in 4 plate appearances last night, with a HR for one of the Nats' two runs in a 2-1 win, and a bunt in the eighth that set Washington up with runners in scoring position though they wasted that opportunity to take a lead and won it in the ninth instead. "I have a lot of confidence in all the guys," Davey Johnson said after the game, "but, [Bernadina] deserves a chance to play every day, and I'm going to give it to him." The Nats might still be looking for a center fielder and a leadoff man, with some members of the front office reportedly unsure that Bernadina's best suited for center, but Davey Johnson's sure that given this roster, the Shark is his man.