For the first time in his career on Monday, Roger Bernadina will dig into a batter’s box against the Nationals, the only other organization he has ever known. He joined the Washington franchise when he signed a free agent contract with the Montreal Expos as a 17-year-old in 2001 out of his native Curacao. He spent the better part of six uneven seasons with the major league team. Until two weeks ago, he was the franchise’s longest-tenured player. He was a fan favorite in Washington, earning the nickname “The Shark” for his acrobatic catches.
For the past two weeks, however, Bernadina has been a Philadelphia Phillie. And, he admits, when he faces Stephen Strasburg on Monday night as a rival it will be surreal.
“I’m excited,” said Bernadina, standing outside the home dugout at Citizens Bank Park while donning red Phillies shorts. “It’s different because I faced him in spring training. It’s totally different. I’m excited to face my ex-teammate. I think it’s a good thing to play and see my old teammates.”
Bernadina, 29, was released on Aug. 19 while in the midst of his worst major league season and the Nationals needed a roster spot. The left-hander was hitting .178 with two home runs and a .517 OPS over 167 plate appearances, a significant drop-off from his career 2012 season in which he hit .291/.372/.405 with five home runs over 261 plate appearances. The Nationals had been concerned about Bernadina’s struggles at the plate, and he just couldn’t snap out of it.
“You never want to get released, of course,” he said. “…Shocked is a big word to say because I wasn’t performing well and I came off the bench and didn’t do whatever I needed to do. It’s a business. I understand that part. A better end. … I wish it had be a better ending. I understand this part of the business.”
Part of the problem, he said, was the lack of playing time. With a set outfield, especially when injured starters returned, Bernadina received few starts and usually only pinch-hit. He missed a significant chuck of spring training while playing for the Netherlands during the World Baseball Classic, where he missed time following a wrist injury. Manager Davey Johnson believes Bernadina’s timing was off all season and he was guessing too often at pitches.
“Everybody else is blaming everything on the World Baseball Classic, so I might as well blame it on that, too,” Johnson said on Monday. “He didn’t get as much playing time early because we had a set lineup. But he should have been used to that.”
Bernadina made no excuses about his missteps.
“It was tough,” he said. “The second half I didn’t have no starts. I came on the bench and of course there’s no excuse. I came on the bench and didn’t get base hits or get on base either. Of course, they had to make a decision on that and move on. Now I’m here and I get an opportunity to play and try to make the best of it.”
Bernadina started in only 38 games and appeared in 35 others. From July 1 until he was traded, he appeared in 22 games and started in none of them. Bernadina brushed off a question that he was miffed about playing time.
“Davey is a great manager,” he said. “But I guess he had his favorites and I don’t think I was in his plan maybe, whatever it was. Still, I cannot look back to it. No, I never had any problem with Davey.”
In 11 games with the Phillies, Bernadina has had some of the same results as he did in Washington. He is hitting .140 with a .538 OPS and two homers in 47 plate appearances. He has made a few acrobatic catches, robbing a home run and making a slick diving catch in his first week.
“I came here and they really want me,” he said. “A new opportunity to come here and play more. They gave me the chance. The teammates are great. The coaches and everything is great. So far it’s good.”
But Bernadina has yet to be called “The Shark” by his new teammates or fans. He said he heard of some fans in Chicago during a Phillies road trip did the shark chomp that was popular at Nationals Park. But that, much like his fond memories of his Nationals teammates, will remain as Washington memories.
“I think it’s more a D.C. thing,” he said. “I don’t know if they’re into that yet over here.”