The Nationals will likely play the entire weekend without slugger Michael Morse, and Friday night may have been the right game for him to miss. Roger Bernadina replaced Morse for Washington’s 2-1 loss to Atlanta, and the Braves hit multiple balls Bernadina tracked down that Morse probably would not have. Bernadina is a more athletic defender than Morse, maybe one of the most athletic defenders in the league – when his read is right, he can make catches with an unsurpassed degree of difficulty. His ability helped keep the Nationals in the game Friday until the final out – and it almost led to an injury. 

The most crucial – and harrowing – play Bernadina made came in the fifth inning. Reed Johnson led off with a single off Ross Detwiler, and with one out Jason Heyward swatted a line drive deep to left.

“It didn’t look like the ball was going all the way to the wall,” Bernadina said. But it carried, and Bernadina raced back until he found himself nearing the track, the ball screaming over his head.

He leaped and crashed into the fence, his right shoulder absorbing the blow. Bernadina somehow held on as he crumpled to the ground.

“You don’t think about it,” Bernadina said. “You just go on instinct. I know I was pretty close. The only play I could make was to jump to get it. I had to keep us in the game.”

Rather than runners on second and third and one out, Bernadina’s catch kept one runner on first with two outs. The Nationals trailed only 1-0, and so the catch changed the game.

“That was awesome,” Detwiler said. “You can’t say enough about a guy like that that puts everything into that catch.”

Bernadina hopped up and threw the ball back into the infield. He kneeled and grabbed at his shoulder, which prompted a trainer and Manager Davey Johnson to check on him.“I went out there slow hoping he’d get better,” Johnson said. “He was fine. A little longer run than I wanted, but he was fine.”

Afterward, Bernadina received ice and treatment on his shoulder, but said he felt fine. “It didn’t feel good, but I focused on the game,” he said. In his next at-bat, Bernadina tried to bunt, but he said the decision had nothing to do with an injured shoulder.

After the catch, Chipper Jones rolled a single through the middle. Thanks to Bernadina, the hit breathed life into a rally rather than culminating one. Detwiler ended the inning the next batter, with a slow roller to first. The Nationals still trailed by one run, largely because the right man was in left field at the right moment.