A look at the Nationals' many bench possibilities
Tuesday, February 22, 2011; 9:41 AM
As the Nationals begin full-squad workouts today, they seem to have few questions about the makeup of their opening day roster. A spot of two in their bullpen could be decided in the next five weeks. The state of left field will be sorted out. The backup catcher will be determined. The most difficult area to predict, though, is probably the last spot or two on the Nationals' bench. It would be very surprising if the first 23 spots on the Nationals' roster didn't look like this: 1-12. Pitchers 13-14. Catchers 15. Adam LaRoche 16. Danny Espinosa 17. Ryan Zimmerman 18. Ian Desmond 19. Nyjer Morgan 20. Jayson Werth 21. Michael Morse 22. Jerry Hairston 23. Rick Ankiel That leaves two spots for five players, leaving out long-shot minor league invitees: 1. Matt Stairs 2. Alberto Gonzalez 3. Laynce Nix 4. Roger Bernadina 5. Alex Cora Bernadina sticks out on that list. I'm including him because, while it would be a surprise if he doesn't make the club, he does have an option remaining, which can always help sway a decision. Plus, his skills seem redundant with Ankiel's. Bernadina proved last season he can be a capable major leaguer, but there have been bigger surprises during spring training. Using that as a disclaimer, let's consider what the bench competition looks like if Bernadina makes the team. The Nationals would have one spot for Stairs, Gonzalez, Nix and Cora. If the Nationals want Stairs's imposing, left-handed bat off the bench, they would have to feel comfortable with Hairston's ability in the middle infield. He would become the only insurance behind Desmond and Espinosa, the latter being a rookie trying to take over a full-time starting job. The other thing is, if Ankiel and Bernadina both make the team, then the Nationals could be overloaded with left-handed bats on the bench if they go with Stairs. And if the Nationals decide they need more security behind Desmond and Espinosa, or if they feel like Hairston will be needed often in the outfield, it would become a straight competition between Cora and Gonzalez. There are almost too many "ifs" to cover all the scenarios that could unfold among those four or five players for one or two spots. As you can see, the decisions will be intertwined and reliant on how the Nationals' feel about other facets of their team. It'll be interesting to watch it all play out. Yesterday, anyway, Manager Jim Riggleman gave Stairs something of an endorsement. He raved about Stairs's ability to change a game with his pinch-hitting. He also said Stairs has lost 20 pounds over the past two years. Stairs has been pigeon-holed as a pinch-hitter, but the Nationals are confident that, in a bind, he could play the field. Nationals front office assistant special assistant Bob Schaefer saw Stairs play often last season in the National League West as the Dodgers' bench coach. He told the Nationals that Stairs would be serviceable at first base or left field. "The way it's been told to me is, he'll never embarrass you in left field or first base," Riggleman said. "We're not looking to have him start games there during the season. But you get in those situations sometimes. If you get into extra innings, it could happen." FROM THE POST Boz finds out what the old hands of the Nationals' front office think about Bryce Harper. In his first day, Harper went through a small workout and a big crowd. Lenny Bernstein tried out to be Teddy at Saturday's Racing President tryouts.