A wide-ranging pre-game meeting with Washington Nationals' skipper Davey Johnson began with the announcement that 32-year-old outfielder Rick Ankiel would return to the major leagues tomorrow following an eight-game rehab stint at three levels of the Nationals' system in which the left-handed hitting and throwing center fielder, who was recovering from a quad injury sustained this spring, hit a double and three home runs with eight hits in 20 at bats.
Asked what role Ankiel would play when he returned, and if he'd be the everyday center fielder, Johnson said, "I like him out there. He's an outstanding defender. I liked what I saw in the Spring in the limited time I got to see him. He's using the whole field. He's in a much more relaxed hitting position. He was much improved, as were a lot of hitters in the Spring, but I was really impressed with his set-up and his approach. So, I'm expecting an improved Rick Ankiel this year, so I'll use him just like I used him last year. Pretty much, he was my center fielder."
That likely means that Roger Bernadina, who's started six games in center while Ankiel was recovering, hitting in 3 of 24 at bats with seven K's and one double so far, will be moving into a backup role. Davey Johnson said that Bernadina has, "... hit the ball hard a number of times," but the 27-year-old outfielder hasn't gotten on base or walked, the manager explained, "... because he's been chasing balls out of the zone. At times he gets overly-aggressive, but he's still, as far as baseball experience goes, he's still kind of a babe in the woods, but he's got a lot of potential. We haven't seen the best of it yet, and I certainly haven't given up on him."
No corresponding move was announced. Davey Johnson said it would likely come tonight or before the game on Saturday, but that would be up to Nats' GM Mike Rizzo. With the Nats last season, Ankiel had a .239/.296/.363 line with 20 doubles, nine home runs and 10 stolen bases in 122 games and 415 at bats in which he was worth +1.4 fWAR as the Nats' center fielder.