Monday was a busy day for the Nationals with Jayson Werth undergoing surgery to stabilize his broken left wrist, general manager Mike Rizzo vociferously condemning Cole Hamels’ actions in intentionally throwing at Bryce Harper and Hamels getting suspended while Jordan Zimmerman escaped unscathed.
The Nationals also traveled to Pittsburgh where they’ll begin a three-game set against the 12-16 Pirates tonight. The Nationals will get Ryan Zimmerman back tonight and they’re hoping they’ll get Adam LaRoche, too.
But they’ll play the first of at least three months worth of games without Werth tonight as he begins the rehab process on a wrist all-too-aqcuainted with injury.
So what does it mean for the Nationals?
– In the short-term, it means the Nationals’ offense will continue to run at less than full strength — or at least less than the strength they anticipated operating at. And that means they’ll continue to rely on their pitching to keep performing at an impressively high level.
As news of Werth’s diagnosis spread through the clubhouse Sunday night, there wasn’t one player asked who didn’t bring up the team’s pitching staff. The Nationals know there must be a breaking point to how many injuries they can sustain offensively before it begins to really catch up to them, but the truth of the matter is, they’ve built their 18-10 record on the back of their pitching staff (and starting rotation with a 2.17 ERA) and nothing has changed in that regard.
– Werth’s injury also provides a significant opportunity for Roger Bernadina. It is fascinating to hear the differing opinions Bernadina elicits. There are plenty who see a player with unquestioned athleticism and copious untapped potential. There are others who feel Bernadina has had plenty of opportunities to prove he’s more than the player he’s shown and has never truly seized any of them.
With Werth out, the Nationals will move Bryce Harper over to right field, leaving left for a mix of Bernadina, Xavier Nady, Chad Tracy and Steve Lombardozzi. Presumably, Tyler Moore could see some time out there as well but the way manager Davey Johnson has been using Moore to this point, it wouldn’t appear an all-too-likely possibility.
Of that group, though, Bernadina figures to be the one with the most to gain. I asked a team source on Monday if this was Bernadina’s opportunity and the response was emphatic. It’s not just an opportunity, it’s a big one. It’s an important chance for Xavier Nady, too, to get more regular at-bats, especially with Mark DeRosa out with an oblique strain for at least another two weeks. But it will be interesting to see how Bernadina responds if the Nationals allow him to get regular playing time in the role.
To that end, one person firmly entrenched in the camp that Bernadina can be that guy, shortstop Ian Desmond provided the first call to arms for his teammate.
“I think there’s guys like Bernadina that, they’re big-league ballplayers and they can handle an everyday workload. I definitely think he’s totally capable of playing in the big leagues. I think he’s capable of impacting the ballclub. And I think he’s going to rise to the occasion.”
– Now, on to Monday’s controversy.
Hamels was suspended five games for intentionally throwing at Harper, a penalty that doesn’t do much to truly hurt the Phillies as Hamels won’t be required to miss a start. The Phillies have an off day on Thursday and will most likely just shuffle their rotation so that Roy Halladay pitches on regular rest Saturday and Hamels throws Sunday.
In the aftermath, Rizzo came out strongly against Hamels’ actions. He called Hamels’ “gutless” and “fake tough,” attempting to defend his 19-year-old outfielder. Some speculated that Rizzo himself could be facing a penalty from MLB after his comments.
There’s a good chance, though, that most will be looking to put the entire incident behind them today — at least until the Nationals visit Philadelphia on May 21-23 when what appears to be a burgeoning rivalry will have its second act.
But one thing that shouldn’t go overlooked before that page is (at least temporarily) turned, is the way Harper has acted in all of this. While Hamels’ comments (and actions) were ill-advised, and Rizzo’s only served to inflame the controversy, Harper didn’t say one thing out of turn throughout. He called Hamels a “great pitcher, great guy,” when told Hamels informed reporters he’d him on purpose. Asked if he might know why that was the case, he just chuckled. “No clue,” he said. In a situation where maturity and level-headedness took a holiday, Harper should get a little credit for displaying both of those qualities.