After two rounds of cuts, utility infielder Brian Bixler remains in Nationals major league camp. The club might not have expected to have Bixler – a career minor leaguer with 68 major league games since becoming a pro in 2004 – with them this long, but he has given them little choice.
Bixler, 28, is mentioned whenever Manager Jim Riggleman lists those who have played best this spring. After making an adjustment to his swing early this spring with hitting coach Rick Eckstein, Bixler has gone 8 for 18 with three doubles, a triple, a home run and five walks. We all know what spring stats are worth, but Bixler has been crushing the ball and by doing so has nudged his way into the competition for the Nationals’ utility infield position.
“He’s played real good,” Riggleman said. “You bring in [Alex] Cora and [Jerry] Hairston, still have [Alberto] Gonzalez. The numbers work against him. I’m sure he knows that. But he’s really played well. It’s very comforting to know. We’ve kept him in camp here because he’s played so good. He just keeps making plays and swinging the bat pretty good. He’s still in the mix. That’s not been determined yet.”
The Nationals acquired Bixler last August from the Pirates in a trade, and he spent the rest of the rest of the season in Class AAA. Bixler could have become a minor league free agent, but the Nationals had an opportunity to sign him first, and they did.
Though Bixler has good athleticism, one scout said his range at shortstop could be better. But his offense has grabbed the Nationals’ attention, and his right-handed bat could be used on a lefty-heavy bench.
Bixler arrived in Florida before spring began and met Eckstein at Seminole High School in Sanford, Eckstein’s hometown, where Eckstein works with many Nationals hitters prior to spring training. Bixler moved hands away from his body and widened his stance slightly.
“Just small things,” Bixler said. “It’s better a feel, a better path to the ball. Obviously, it’s good to get quick results. It just kind of shows if you put the right amount of work, not too much, but quality work, you can get something done. It makes you feel good about it.”
Bixler understands he remains a long shot to make the team, and any role would be strictly a backup. But he’s still here, and for now that’s what matters to him.
“I don’t really know how it’s going to play out,” Bixler said. “All I can really do is keep playing and playing well and showing them I belong, and making it a real hard decision for them.”
>>> And here is the Nationals’ lineup against the Detroit Tigers and right-hander Rick Porcello. The top five looks a lot like what you might see on opening day:
1. Nyjer Morgan, CF
2. Ian Desmond, SS
3. Jayson Werth, RF
4. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
5. Michael Morse, LF
6. Wilson Ramos, DH
7. Jerry Hairston, 2B
8. Ivan Rodriguez, C
9. Chris Marrero, 1B
-- Jason Marquis, SP