The Washington Times - March 23, 2012, 01:10PM

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson plans to start playing his regular lineup more often starting with Sunday’s game at home against the New York Mets. And through watching his regulars like Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos go nine innings, Johnson also plans to get a better idea of the five players who’ll make up his bench.

Right now, Mark DeRosa and Jesus Flores are locks for bench spots. And while that was never really in doubt, they’ve also both had exceptional springs.


After that, Steve Lombardozzi appears to be inching closer each day to a spot on the Nationals’ 25-man roster. Lombardozzi has had a strong spring, hitting .308 with a .333 on-base percentage and a .410 slugging percentage, while playing well at second, third and short and learning to play the outfield. He’s also a switch hitter so his versatility is nearly maxed out and the Nationals are extremely high on him.

This, however, is where it gets interesting — and where things will flesh out a bit more in the coming week.

Brett Carroll, Roger Bernadina, Jason Michaels and Chad Tracy are the remaining candidates but how many spots the Nationals will have to give all depends on the health of Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche. 

LaRoche went to the minor league side on Friday to get some at-bats. He’s allowed to jog to first but wasn’t cleared to make any turns on the basepaths and would not play the field. Still, it’s progress for him and Johnson said “probably early next week he might even be able to get in a game up here, hit a double and he might even be able to run instead of staying at first.”

And for Morse, there was not much update other than Sunday he’s on track to try some activity again and he may be allowed to do some light throwing and test his right lat strain.

“That was all good news as far as I’m concerned,” Johnson said. “At least he’ll be doing something baseball-oriented the first of next week. Then, when he’s given that a go, then it’s kind of up to him how he progresses.”

But how the Nationals proceed with regard to their 25-man roster will take into account the possibility that either or both will not be on the active roster when April 5 rolls around and that will offer an expanded opportunity to Carroll, Michaels, Bernadina and Tracy. 

The Nationals have been very impressed with Carroll and he’d likely be their first choice as a right-handed compliment to Rick Ankiel if he ends up earning the starting center field job, which also appears likely.Bernadina can play all three outfield spots but Michaels is more of a corner outfielder and Tracy is mostly limited to first base. He could fill in at third if necessary but Lombardozzi and DeRosa would be ahead of him in line there.

Answering these questions, along with figuring out how healthy his injured players are, is what Johnson hopes to begin doing on Sunday as the Nationals look at how to pare the necessary 12 more players from their roster before Opening Day.

“I’m going to proceed under the assumption that one or both of (Morse and LaRoche) aren’t going to make it to the starting game,” Johnson said. “That’s why if you pay attention starting next week you’ll see what I came up with to play left or first.”