With 10 days remaining before opening day, there are two certainties about the Nationals’ center field situation. One, the Nationals are committed to starting Jerry Hairston against left-handed starting pitchers. Two, the three primary candidates – Roger Bernadina, Nyjer Morgan and Rick Ankiel, who were all the travel list this morning for the Nationals’ game in Jupiter – have all had and fumbled chances to claim the position for themselves.
The center field decision would be made easier if the three competitors were each playing either much worse or much better. Instead, the decision remains “fluid” according to one source, and the team will take into account a number of opinions throughout the organization.
Don’t yet count out Nyjer Morgan, who in the eyes of several Nationals evaluators has recovered from a miserable start to spring. Spring training stats are surely not a be-all, end-all, but Morgan actually has the best on-base percentage of the three at .340, compared to .239 for Ankiel and .327 for Bernadina. Morgan has continued his diligent work with coaches on all phases of his game – one Nationals official described him as “a class act” this spring.
Ankiel has the most power of the three, having hit three home runs and three doubles out of his eight hits in 43 at-bats. The strength of outfield arm has blown away Nationals decision-makers.
Bernadina has probably been the most maddening. During his rookie year last season, Bernadina often showed flashes of fully capitalizing on his immense potential, only to regress again. The same has happened during spring training. Bernadina has cooled after a hot start, and he’s now hitting .267/.327/.378 in 45 at-bats.
>>> Ryan Zimmerman will not return to game action until Thursday at the earliest, Manager Jim Riggleman said. That would leave Zimmerman, at most, six games to prepare for the regular season after missing more than a week. Still, the Nationals are not concerned about his preparation.
“Not with Ryan,” Riggleman said. “I’d like for him to see pitches, but I think we’ll get him four or five games. I that will be good.”
>>> Chad Gaudin seems to have locked up a roster spot in the bullpen. Gaudin threw five innings in a minor league game yesterday, his second straight start on the minor league side of Nationals camp.
“We’ve got to get him back over here,” Riggleman said. The next time Gaudin pitches, Riggleman said, the Nationals plan to use him in a relief role in a major league game.
Gaudin, a minor-league free agent, has pitched well enough to secure a spot for himself on the major league roster. The Nationals are also motivated not to send him to the minors because he is believed to have an out clause in his contract. If the Nationals don’t add him to the 25-man roster, he would have to clear waivers, a highly unlikely prospect. Gaudin, 27, has proved he is worth keeping in the organization.
>>> Here’s today’s lineup, which will face Cardinals’ right-hander Chris Carpenter:
1. Nyjer Morgan, CF
2. Ian Desmond, SS
3. Laynce Nix, RF
4. Adam LaRoche, 1B
5. Michael Morse, LF
6. Ivan Rodriguez, C
7. Danny Espinosa, 2B
8. Alex Cora, 3B
9. Livan Hernandez, SP