The silver lining to all the injuries the Nationals endured this season to established starters has lead to this: a bench with both young and veteran players, who for stretches of the season were capable everyday starters and gained valuable experience. And now that everyone is healthy, Nationals Manager Davey Johnson considers it “right up there” among the best benches has has ever managed.
“I’ve got the perfect bench,” he said. “The problem is I have too many good ones on the bench and trying to get playing time for them. I’m going to get some of these guys a day off here and there.”
Tyler Moore, 25, has been impressive in limited playing time, launching his eighth home run of the season in a now less frequent start on Tuesday. Steve Lombardozzi, 23, is a .280 hitter over 350 at-bats and can fill in nearly anywhere in the infield and left field. Roger Bernadina, 28, is enjoying the best season of his career, hitting .302 in 202 at-bats and can spell any of the regular outfielders. Chad Tracy, 32, a veteran hitter, is the team’s best pinch-hitter and has 13 RBI in 71 at-bats.
Johnson is trying to find a balance between keeping his regular starters in the lineup and sneaking rare opportunities for bench players who have made good contributions throughout the season. He is resting Jayson Werth on Wednesday and giving Bernadina a chance to play. He plans to give Ryan Zimmerman the day off on Sunday, and Lombardozzi is an obvious candidate to fill in.
“That’s a good problem,” Johnson said of managing all the playing time. “They’re all in pretty good mental state. Nobody’s knocking down my door to get into the lineup. That’s a good thing. But yeah, I got a couple good left-handed bats, a couple good right-handed bats, a switch hitter. The way you’d want to draw it up. And half of them are young, which kinda rare. But you don’t mind having them on the bench because they were playing a lot getting regular playing time through all the injuries. They got their experience.”
Though not a complete indication of the value of the Nationals bench, the team’s pinch-hitters lead the majors in combined batting average (.299) and second in OPS (.842). They are also tied for ninth place with 21 RBI.
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