PITTSBURGH — The Nationals filled the roster space created when they optioned catcher Jesus Flores back to Triple-A Syracuse with infielder Brian Bixler on Friday, allowing Bixler to possibly make his first major league appearance in a Nationals’ uniform against the team that drafted and developed him.
The move has not officially been announced because adding Bixler to the active roster will necessitate a 40-man roster move and with the Nationals game against the Pirates rained out Friday night, they now do not have to make that move until just prior to Saturday’s game.
Bixler, who was selected by the Pirates in the second round of the 2004 draft, made his major league debut with them in 2008 on April 6 and started his first-ever major league game two days later here at PNC Park.
“It feels good to be back,” Bixler said Friday. “It’s kind of funny coming straight to Pittsburgh. It’s a little different being on this side, this clubhouse, but that’s how it is.
“It’s always exciting (to get called up), especially with a new team. I’m excited to be here with the Nationals.”
The 29-year-old has played in 68 major league games in his career, all with Pittsburgh before they traded him to the Cleveland Indians prior to the 2010 season for Jesus Brito. Bixler was then traded back to the Pirates in July last year and the Nationals scooped him up for cash considerations in August.
Since then, Bixler’s impressed. He made plenty of people notice with a strong spring training and has been hitting well at Triple-A since the season began. In 14 games this year, Bixler’s hitting .326 with a .483 on-base percentage and that follows a 27-game stretch at the end of last year, after he was acquired by the Nationals, where he hit .340 with five doubles, two triples and a home run with Syracuse.
“I’m getting some hits here and there,” he said, noting that a small alteration he made to his hand positioning on the bat during spring training has paid dividends. “I want to be a little more consistent.”
Bixler is a versatile player and he’d been getting time at third base, shortstop and second base while with Triple-A, as well as a little playing time in left field. The Nationals plan to use him mostly as a pinch hitter or late game defensive replacement. When Ian Desmond takes paternity leave sometime in the next few days, his role could increase.
“Bixler will be used kind of anywhere that’s needed,” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. “We feel like he can play both infield and outfield, anywhere on the field pretty much. He’ll get a pinch-hit appearance here and there, kind of the same way we use Cora, actually, just from the right side.”
“Wherever they want me is fine,” Bixler said. “I know that’s my role so whatever it is… when I was (in the major leagues) before I kind of learned to do that role and I think I’ve got a good grasp on it. I know how to get ready for games as a starter or as a bench guy to play different spots.”