Nationals manager Jim Riggleman has a predicament. He has three left-handed hitting outfielders and only two spots. He has a guy in Laynce Nix who’s been his team’s most consistent hitter — and a middle-of-the-order bat who’s been irreplaceable, a young outfielder who needs a chance to play consistently in Roger Bernadina and the team’s opening day center fielder in Rick Ankiel trying to find his way back into the lineup after an injury.
It’s going to cause some lineup shuffling.
In the last four games, Bernadina and Ankiel have alternated starting in center field and at leadoff. Nix has only really gotten a rest when the Nationals face a right-handed pitcher and Brian Bixler gets slotted into left field.
“Bernadina, Ankiel, Nix, the three of them are going to man those two positions and hopefully none of them get too much rust on them,” Riggleman said. “Ankiel, our Opening Day center fielder basically, came out of there because he made a great effort on a couple balls and rolled over his wrist. I’ve got to try to get him going. I can’t just let him go to the bench and get rustier and rustier.”
Ankiel, who did not play from May 3 until May 24, was hitting .221 when he hit the disabled list with a sprained right wrist. He’s hitting .214 on the season now.
Alternating all three guys in and out is a bit of a departure from what Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said 12 days ago in New York when he was questioned about the outfield situation. The Nationals are in a position where they’d like to evaluate what they truly have in Bernadina — is he the starting center fielder of this team for the future or is he more suited to play left field in a platoon-type role?
With that in mind, Rizzo said at the time that unless Bernadina would continue to get an opportunity to play every day, he would not remain with the major league team. The Nationals are more concerned with him getting regular playing time than having him on the bench of the big league team. However, he also fills a void at leadoff better than any other player on the Nationals 25-man roster and Riggleman has said repeatedly that he likes having Bernadina at that spot.
“If you take it literal it’s not every day,” Riggleman said of Bernadina’s playing time going forward. “But I think the implication is that he’s not going to be a pinch hitter. He’s not going to sit and get rare starts. He’s going to play a lot. I’ve got two positions for three players and I’m not going to abandon Rick Ankiel at this point and Nix is hitting fourth for us, swinging pretty good, so I’ve got to mix and match a little bit.”
– When the Padres fourth run came in on Sunday it was charged to starting pitcher Yunesky Maya. It won’t appear on the ERA of reliever Doug Slaten, the man on the mound when the run came in, but it does fall into another stat category that Slaten has struggled with significantly this season: inherited runners.
Slaten has now allowed 12 of 24 inherited runners to score this season — 50 percent — and the most of any reliever on the Nationals. Tyler Clippard, the only Nationals reliever who’s inherited as many runners as Slaten has with 26, has allowed just six to score (23 percent).
Last year, Slaten, a left-handed specialist, inherited 26 runners all season. He allowed just four to score (15 percent) and of the 174 batters who came to the plate against him in 2010, only four percent were able to get an extra-base hit. This year 13.6 percent of the 59 batters who’ve had a plate appearance against Slaten have been able to get a hit for extra bases.
Still, Riggleman said he has no plan to stop using Slaten in runners-on situations, even if only for a short while.
“You can’t do that,” Riggleman said. “Slaten is somewhat of a situational left-hander and so that’s when they pitch — generally when you need to get a left-hander out with runners on base is usually when it happens. You can find that inning when maybe two left-handers are the first two batters of the inning and have him start the inning but (it’s rare).”
– Ian Desmond was not in the Nationals lineup on Monday for just the sixth time this season. Desmond has been dealing with some aches and pains and Riggleman wanted to take the opportunity to rest his shortstop. He did the same with Danny Espinosa on Sunday. While Riggleman has both his young middle infielders on a pace for about 500 at-bats, he’s also cautious of wearing them out early in the season.
Desmond sat two games on the team’s last homestand with a strained quad but both he and Riggleman did not consider any of his “aches and pains” to be serious.
“Desi’s got some things going on that we’re hoping that this day will help it calm down even more,” Riggleman said. “He’s got some aches and pains like everybody on the field does and playing a demanding position like he does, I’m just trying to give him a day.”