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Nationals outfielder Roger Bernadina finding a home in the major leagues

By Jorge Castillo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 6, 2010; D03

Roger Bernadina was supposed to establish himself as a major leaguer last year, after spending virtually all of his first seven professional seasons in the minors.

On April 18, 2009, three days after being called up from Class AAA Syracuse by the Washington Nationals, he got his break when starting center fielder Elijah Dukes was benched. But while making his first start in the majors, Bernadina caught another break -- literally -- when he fractured his ankle while making a memorable catch against the wall in the eighth inning.

He went on to miss the remainder of the season, and whether he would get a second chance in the majors in 2010 was up in the air. The 26-year-old started this season in Syracuse, but by the middle of May he was the everyday right fielder in Washington.

In May, management reiterated that this season was the Curacao native's opportunity to prove himself and that he "was a work in progress." Halfway through the season that hasn't changed, but his first half has impressed management enough to hint that Bernadina, who technically still is a rookie, is in the team's future.

"He's about a season behind his developmental curve because he's missed so much time, but he's a little bit ahead of schedule in my mind of where we think he should be," General Manager Mike Rizzo said.

Bernadina was originally projected to play in center but has found a home in right field, a position at which the Nationals have had trouble finding consistency since José Guillén left after the 2006 season.

"I really think that we got a chance to have a really good player there for the future," Nationals Manager Jim Riggleman said before Sunday's game.

Bernadina got off to a hot start when he was called up, hitting .311 in his first 14 starts. He's cooled off since then and now platoons with Mike Morse in right field but continues to put up solid numbers. In 58 games, he's hitting .286 with five home runs and 24 RBI.

"So far [the season is] going good but I'm never satisfied," Bernadina said. "Every day I want to get better. I want more because I know I can get better."

While he has shown signs of brilliance and five-tool ability, such as the laser he threw from the right field corner to nail a runner at second in Baltimore last week, it comes with some frustrating setbacks -- such as getting picked off at second base to end the game against the Mets on Thursday.

"He's made some great plays," Riggleman said. "Every now and then he takes a little step backwards and then next thing you know he does some more exciting things. There's been some real exciting moments for Roger in the first half and there's been a couple times where the progress slowed down for a week."

Progress was slowed down when Bernadina tweaked his back in batting practice before Friday's game. He then missed most of the rest of the weekend series against the Mets with "lower back tightness" and didn't see action until pinch-hitting in the ninth inning with two outs in Sunday's loss. He grounded out to end the game.

He said he'll be ready to play on Tuesday against the San Diego Padres, but with the visitors putting southpaw Clayton Richard on the mound, the left-handed Bernadina may not be in the lineup. Still, knowing he could be in the lineup every day provides a certain level of comfort -- just not too much.

"You definitely feel more comfortable," said Bernadina, who signed with the Montreal Expos as a 17-year-old in 2001. "But I don't want to be too comfortable."

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