Ankiel’s return will change the complexion of the Nationals’ bench, which again provided a crucial contribution to a win Friday night. Xavier Nady made extra innings possible with his pinch-hit homer in the eighth off Bill Bray. (Yes, Nationals trivia buffs, he was in the 2006 trade that brought over Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez.)
Johnson pounded the table all winter for improvements to his bench. Last year, Nationals pinch hitters hit .186/.291/.240 with five extra-base hits, two of them homers, in 243 plate appearances. Already, Chad Tracy and Nady have produced game-winning RBI.
“It’s no secret, I love my bench this year compared to last year,” Johnson said. “This year, I think I’ve had more production out of my bench than I did the three months I was here. That’s something we’ve been missing. Last year, it was a groundout, ball four, hit batter. I think the whole club feels that we’ve got some ammunition sitting on the bench.”
The Nationals signed Nady on March 18, six days after he took batting practice from Nationals scouts out in California. General Manager Mike Rizzo had scouted Nady back in the late 90s when he played in college at Cal, and he loved his ability back then. After Nady could not find an opportunity all winter, coming off a season in which he broke his hand, the Nationals swooped in late.
Nady reported to the Nationals’ minor league camp and, after one game there, they moved him to the major league side. Johnson watched him take batting practice a few times, and he all but demanded Nady be placed on the team. Friday night, Nady proved him right.
“I had been through a lot,” Nady said. “All in all, you hope it makes you a better player down the road, and when you’re thrown into situations like this, you feel like you’re more prepared.”
Said Jayson Werth: “We’ve got a stronger bench. There’s no doubt. I think that was Davey’s big thing this winter. He wanted to get a veteran bench, guys who have done it at this level before. Especially to get Xavier late like we did. He was just sitting at home. And here he is, a couple weeks later, hitting homers in big situations to get us where we need to be.”