The Washington Times - August 26, 2011, 07:33PM

CINCINNATI — Brian Bixler was back in the Nationals lineup, playing center field and hitting second, for the second straight day — his third start there in the Nationals last four games. With Washington facing left-hander Dontrelle Willis, Nationals manager Davey Johnson opted for the right-handed Bixler over the left-handed Ankiel for the matchup.

But there was another reason Bixler was in the lineup Friday — and why he’s been getting more playing time as of late: The Nationals want to see truly what he can do.

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“I want to get him some playing time,” Johnson said. “We’re very high on him in the organization so basically I’m trying to get him at-bats.”

The Nationals are also shorthanded on their bench and have been ever since Bixler returned to the major league roster at the end of July. So Bixler, who came up as an infielder, has been used mostly as a late-game defensive replacement and mostly in the outfield.

“Bixler’s done a great job transitioning to the outfield,” Johnson said. “Maybe I’m way old school but I like guys who came up in the outfield playing the outfield. I’ve had Bixler in center and in the corners but I like corner outfielders to be big and hairy chested — but I go back to offense.

“I’ve been using him mostly as a defensive replacement and not giving him much opportunity to swing the bat.”

Bixler is 3-for-his-last-9, including a 2-for-5 night on Thursday in the Nationals’ 8-1 loss to the Diamondbacks.

– The Nationals got out of town just in time to miss Hurricane Irene and all of it’s wrath this weekend but their next opponent wasn’t as fortunate. The Atlanta Braves were set to start a three-game series with the Mets in New York this weekend but both Saturday and Sunday’s games have been postponed. The Braves will fly home to Atlanta after Friday night’s game and then have three full days off before they open a three-game set with the Nationals on Tuesday night.

Because of the time off, the Braves can pretty much line up their rotation any way they’d like to face the Nationals with the equivalent of an All-Star break in the middle of August coming their way. Tim Hudson pitches Friday in New York but even he would be available to start the second game of the series with the Nationals on Wednesday. 

The Braves had not yet decided on how they were going to set up their rotation. The Nationals, as long as they remain on-turn, will send Livan Hernandez, John Lannan and Chien-Ming Wang to the mound in the Atlanta series.