WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 01: Rick Ankiel #24 of the Washington Nationals celebrates with Ryan Zimmerman #11 after hitting a home run in the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park on August 1, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
• On Ankiel: After saying yesterday that 32-year-old outfielder Rick Ankiel would likely be the everyday center fielder upon returning to the majors following a rehab stint as he recovered from a quad issue, Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson was asked this morning what he expected from the strong-armed outfielder, who returns to the lineup today, (with Brett Carroll DFA'd to make room on the roster), now that the center fielder was back and ready to play center and hit seventh in the Nats' lineup. "I expect every time a ball gets close to him he's swinging," the Nationals' skipper said, "That's what I expect. He's an aggressive hitter, great defender. It's good to have him back."
Ankiel's return means less playing time for Roger "The Shark" Bernadina, who's started seven games in center with Ankiel on the DL. "The left field situation, and how I view the outfield configuration against right or left [handers]" the 69-year-old skipper explained, "I'll probably do what I've been doing in the past, use more of a right-handed hitting lineup against a left-hander. It's a work in progress still about who gets the majority of the playing time in left. So there's still basically three or three-and-a-half, with [Steve Lombardozzi] in that mix. So the players are going to tell me by their performance and either past history, matchups, the good news is I have some history on some guys that have faced different pitchers..."
• On The Nats' Defense, Ian Desmond: In Ankiel, the Nationals add an above-average defender into the mix. Ankiel's arm is probably the most impressive part of his game, but Davey Johnson also said this morning that he's been impressed by Ian Desmond's arm so far this season as the Nats' shortstop's repeatedly made throws from deep in the hole that other shortstops might not be able to make. Asked for a comparison to Desmond's arm from his own past in baseball, Johnson said he was reminded of "his old roommate", and Orioles' double play partner, Luis Aparicio. "Ian's got a tremendously strong arm," the Nationals' manager said, "And he's very athletic and can throw from just about any position, and I don't want to compliment him too much because I don't want him to be doing too much of it, but he's made some unbelievable plays, no question."
The Nats' defense overall has impressed their manager, who said, "They're very good. Very good. I've never had an infield this talented. It's that simple. I've had Hall of Famers at different positions, but as a group, I've never had an infield that has four guys that can do the things that these guys can, and that's saying a lot." Asked if he was just talking about teams he's managed, Johnson said, "I'm talking as a baseball man and a manager."
In his playing days, Johnson said, "We had a pretty good one at third [Brooks Robinson]. I was pretty decent. Aparicio and [Mark] Belanger were pretty decent. Booger [Boog Powell], uhh...," Johnson joked. "Nothing in Atlanta, Philly was okay in a couple spots, but I've been around a lot of good infields, but no question in mind and you can even throw in the whole package [and] it even makes it more special [including] offense and defensive capabilities."
The veteran of 13 MLB seasons as a player, who's in his 16th season as a manager, said Adam LaRoche, in particular, makes a big difference for the entire infield. "I had a pretty good [first baseman] when I managed the Mets in Keith Hernandez. He was awfully good. You take more changes throwing off balance, and I'm a firm believer that you don't throw off balance, but with somebody of that caliber over there, you feel you can get it close enough in the range for him if it bounces he can make the play. But, I mean, I don't know how many errors he's save already this year, just by making it look easy."