“The guy is a Greek god,” said teammate Chad Tracy, whose locker is adjacent to Bernadina’s at Nationals Park. “I’ve played against him but you don’t realize how solid he is until you see him with his shirt off.”
In fact, Bernadina, 28, didn’t always look like this: defined arms, tree-trunk forearms and thin legs. Three years ago, Bernadina weighed 215 pounds. Since then, he has slimmed down to 205 pounds, replacing the mass with lean muscle. Each offseason, it’s as if he shows up to spring training even better built than before. (He looked jacked last season, too.)
Three years ago, Bernadina decided to take conditioning, and particularly weight lifting, more seriously. He felt tired near the end of the season and wanted to avoid that in the future.
“Everybody is going to get tired,” he said. “But I wasn’t lifting at all. I started doing that.”
He hired a personal trainer in his native Curaçao. They did whole body training and lifting for about 90 minutes five days a week. He has done that every offseason since. During the season, he works out two to three times a week to maintain. He adapted his diet, too, loading up on proteins such as chicken and choosing natural foods. (There’s still some fast food in his diet but his metabolism can clearly handle it.)
Now, Bernadina is in tremendous shape. He looks much different than he did when he first received significant playing time for the Nationals in 2010. This season, given the injuries to several outfielders, he has filled a larger role than expected and performed well. He began using a lighter bat at the urging of teammate Mark DeRosa and fixed a hitch in his swing. He has made spectacular catches. He is known as “The Shark,” for his ability to hunt down balls in the outfield.
Over the past 16 games, only four of which he started, Bernadina is 13 for 24 (.542) with five walks, including two hits in Sunday’s game. All of his averages — batting average (.308), on-base percentage (.390) and slugging percentage (.410) — are way above his career marks..
“This year compared to last year, he’s shortened his stroke,” Nationals Manager Davey Johnson said. “Not big and more direct to the ball. He’s just making the pitchers throw the ball in the strike zone better, more than last year. Just a more mature hitter. He’s done a great job in his role. He’s basically been almost a regular at times this year.”
Johnson said Bernadina has the tools to be an everyday player, but is still developing. Though Bernadina has been in the system since 2001, when he signed with the Montreal Expos, he has only two full years of time in the majors since his debut in 2008. Injuries and performance derailed his playing time.
And at this point of the season, Bernadina insists he doesn’t feel sluggish, as he did before he started focusing more on his fitness.
“I still feel strong,” he said. “I still feel good. I’ve got at least a month or so for sure,” he added, smiling.
After Bernadina changed from street clothes into a t-shirt and shorts at his locker before Sunday’s game, DeRosa looked at Bernadina and asked: “How small is your waist?”
Bernadina laughed it off and walked away. DeRosa continued: “He could play in the NFL tomorrow.”
“He’s pretty humble,” Tracy said earlier, laughing. “If I had that body, I’d never have clothes on.”