By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 27, 2010; D05
SAN FRANCISCO -- Before each game, Roger Bernadina sits at his locker in silence, listening to music on headphones -- "what I feel like at that moment," he said. He taps the keys on his cellphone and texts back and forth with his trainer, who watches Bernadina play every night from Holland, where Bernadina went to school.
The messages are reminders to help Bernadina prepare and focus, to "always look for more," Bernadina said. So far this season, Bernadina is finding more. After healing from a broken ankle and starting this year in the minor leagues, Bernadina has effectively become an everyday right fielder, something the Washington Nationals planned on playing without this season.
Wednesday, Bernadina started for the 15th time in the Nationals' past 17 games. Before his 0 for 4 night in the victory at San Francisco, Bernadina helped cement himself in right field by going 14 for 45 (.311) with two home runs, two triples and two doubles.
Bernadina, 25, began this season in Class AAA Syracuse because the Nationals thought he needed everyday playing time to make up for last year's lost season. "He's got 500 plate appearances to catch up on," General Manager Mike Rizzo said. Despite Bernadina's emergence, the Nationals believe he remains far from a finished product.
"I think that Roger is still a work in progress," Rizzo said. "He's just scratching the surface of his ability level. He's come up here and shown flashes of that everyday corner outfielder that he can be. He always gives you sparkling defense, and he's learned to be more consistent at the plate. We're starting to see glimpses of the player that he can be."
Bernadina's breakthrough could have come last season. The Nationals called him to the majors in mid-April, and he made his first start of the season on April 18 against the Florida Marlins. Dan Uggla drilled a deep fly ball to center, and Bernadina showed off his athleticism by making a leaping catch at the wall.
When Bernadina landed, he crumpled to the ground and did not get up. When he walked off the field, his ankle was broken and his season was over.
At first, Bernadina did not know how to react. He had never broken a bone before, had never been without baseball. Once he started healing, he used the injury as motivation.
"I let it fuel me," Bernadina said. "I worked my [butt] off to get back here."
Bernadina faced a significant mental obstacle in his first game this year in center field, spelling Nyjer Morgan on a day off in St. Louis. Colby Rasmus smashed a deep drive to center field, just like the play Bernadina had hurt himself on little more than a year earlier.
As Bernadina sprinted back, he thought for a moment about the play that sidetracked his career. He kept running, jumped at the wall and made the catch. This time, smiling, he threw the ball back to the infield.
"Let me say this," Bernadina said. "I'm not scared to go out there and hit the wall again. If it happens, it happens. I just go out there 100 percent. I'm not going to change anything. Keep on doing what I've been doing."
In his limited time with the Nationals before this season, Bernadina went 17 for 80 (.213) with no home runs. The Nationals credit Bernadina's improved results in part to work with hitting coach Rick Eckstein. Prompted by Eckstein, Bernadina altered his swing late in spring training and found instant results.
"This is the first time in a while that he's consistently been out there and getting consistent at-bats," Manager Jim Riggleman said. "He's a very talented guy. If you run him out there enough, he's going to do some damage, because he's just that good of a player."
Bernadina also credits enhanced confidence. He has worked with the same trainer since 2007, and he also serves as something like a mental coach. "He told me, 'You've got to focus better,' little things to get me to the next level," Bernadina said. This season, despite missing nearly all of last year, Bernadina feels like he belongs.
"Whenever I got to the big leagues, my eyes were big," Bernadina said. "I wasn't on that level that I am right now. I'm more confident. It doesn't matter who's pitching. I want to hit.
"Every year I'm getting better, every game I'm getting better."