After last season, when Nationals pinch hitters went 38 for 202 with five extra-base hits, Manager Davey Johnson has simple criteria in determining the final position player on his bench. “As long as they can hit,” Johnson said, “I don’t care what they do.”
Johnson’s most frequently broached topic this spring has been that battle for the final bench spot. It looks like Jesus Flores, Mark DeRosa, Roger Bernadina and Steve Lombardozzi are good bets for the first four bench spots. The field for the fifth should narrow next Monday, when Johnson will make his first round of cuts. For now, Brett Carroll, Jason Michaels and Chad Tracy have stood out most among a gaggle of non-roster invitees.
Yesterday, Carroll continued a hot start to spring with a double down the left field line, an RBI single and two walks. Before games began, Carroll grabbed attention with his athleticism. He can play all three outfield spots, and coaches have compared his arm with Rick Ankiel, which is saying a lot.
But, given Johnson’s demands, the question is, can Carroll hit enough? Carroll has shown some decent power in the minor leagues over his career, including last year, when he hit .270/.345/.447 with 16 homers at Class AAA. He’s clearly a strong guy, and he’s shown some power during batting practice. But in his major league career, Carroll has hit .203/.281/.322, and he’s 6 for 43 as a pinch hitter.
“I’ve said all along, I really like what I’m seeing there,” Johnson said. “Good player, very versatile. Good defensively, good approach at the plate. Plays the game hard. He’s certainly in the mix.”
Michaels holds sway among the veterans in the Nationals’ clubhouse, and the Nationals showed what they think of his makeup by his placement in the clubhouse: the locker right next to Bryce Harper’s. He has the edge in experience, having pinch-hit 428 times in his career, but he also had a 53 OPS+ last year with the Astros. Tracy, who played in Japan last year, would give the Nationals a left-handed hitter off the bench.
“I’ve already asked even the general manager, all the coaches, who they like, who they think is the best – pick five guys for my bench,” Johnson said. “After a while, I’ll say, pick my 25-man roster. It’s just a fun exercise. Nobody ever gets it right. I’m smart enough I don’t have to give my 25.”
FROM THE POST
The Nationals rotation has lived up to its billing early in spring, most recently with Edwin Jackson.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL