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April 8, 2012

Inside The Park Blog

Nationals Face a Roster Crunch

by Bradford Doolittle

CHICAGO | The Nationals have a pair of projected regulars rehabbing at Double-A Harrisburg in Michael Morse and Rick Ankiel. With both expected to return within the next week or so, Washington has some roster decisions lying ahead.

Morse will be the Nationals' everyday left fielder this season, though he'll surely slide back to first base at times in place of Adam LaRoche when a tough lefty is on the mound. Meanwhile, Ankiel is being looked at as the stopgap in center field while Bryce Harper ripens in Triple-A. Harper is 4 for 11 with a double and walk in the early going for Syracuse.

To make room for the veterans, the Nationals are going to have pare down a bench that currently features just one natural outfielder in Brett Carroll, though Steve Lombardozzi is a utility-type that finished up Saturday's game in left. Lombardozzi played all 442 of his minor-league games as an infielder. Utility player Mark DeRosa started the first two games in left.

What I've picked up on from the Washington beat writers is that Caroll, Lombardozzi and Roger Bernadina are the most likely candidates to get heaved when Morse and Ankiel return. Bernadina has started Washington's first three games but is a replacement-levelish player, albeit with standout base-stealing skills. According to PECOTA, he projected as the club's second-best base runner behind Jayson Werth this season. Meanwhile, Carroll turns 30 in October and has a .203 career average in 322 career plate appearances. Neither Bernadina nor Carroll has any options remaining.

The Nationals of course aren't saying much on the subject just yet.

"They are four or five days away," Davey Johnson said. "Michael Morse got some treatment in New York and is back in the lineup today for Harrisburg, as well as Ankiel. They're both swinging the bat pretty good. We'll deal with (the roster) when they get ready."

Carroll's departure seems imminent, but the debate will be whether the Nationals keep Bernadina or Lombardozzi. Neither is going to get the edge over Ankiel, because Johnson has been impressed with the former pitching phenom's possible improvement at the plate.

"The thing I like about Ankiel is that he's using the whole field," Johnson said. "Last year, pretty much a dead pull hitter. This year, since day one of spring training he's been using the whole field. The other day, he had a couple of hits to opposite field, oppo home run and oppo base hit.

"The way he's setting up now, it's like his agent Scott Boras told me last year. He said, 'Get him back to where he was in high school. When he hit the ball all over, he was a great hitter.' I asked him, 'How do I do that?' I guess it worked out over the winter. He's doing it."

The Nationals are carrying 12 pitchers, but that's not going to change in the short term.

"I said in the spring, when my starters get really stretched out, I'm going to need less innings out of the bullpen," Johnson said. "That's a question for down the road because the starters are not stretched out. You guys in this case about a month ahead of yourselves."

Other tidbits from Wrigley Field on Easter Sunday:

  • Johnson "clarified" his Saturday sermon on dividing his bullpen into A and B groups: "So you guys don't get confused, when you have A and B, you have lots of A and B in both games. I didn't clarify that. I heard there was some confusion when I listened to some reports on the air. When you have an off day, A and B are kind of like red and blue running together. Now today, I go with guys with less of a workload. You guys figure that one out? You understand it completely?" … No, not really.
  • We'll have to see how Jeff Samardzija does in his first full season in the Cubs' rotation, but there will be one clear positive from his switch to the role: We'll get to see him hit. Samardzija is no Carlos Zambrano at the dish, but he clearly has replaced Z as the Cubs' pitcher to watch during p.b.p.
  • Anthony Rendon, the Nationals' first-round draft pick last year and Kevin Goldstein's top Washington prospect in the non-Harper division, hurt his ankle rounding third base in a minor-league game for Class A Potomac on Saturday. The club doesn't have a specific diagnosis because the swelling has not gone down on the injury, but termed the ankle as "badly sprained."
  • Before Saturday's game, some members of the Nationals were cooing over highlights of Yoenis Cespedes' mammoth home run against Seattle on Friday. At the same time, the consensus in the clubhouse was that Cespedes would take one on the elbow after admiring the shot, which hit the facing of the second deck at the Oakland Coliseum. Sure enough, King Felix Hernandez drilled Cespedes in the back with a fourth-inning pitch on Saturday.
  • Was chatting with a member of the Cubs' staff before game, who said that the front office's partnership with Bloomberg Sports to develop a Cubs-specific information model -- a la the famed Carmine in Boston -- is going well. I jokingly asked if there is a "crazy factor" in the database and he told me that make-up is one component of a player's profile, in which things like past comments about a player from former teammates and managers are compiled.

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bradford's other articles. You can contact Bradford by clicking here

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