Xavier Nady stood in front of his locker Wednesday afternoon slowly swinging his bat back and forth by his feet. It was a month to the day since he signed a minor league deal with the Washington Nationals, role unknown. He'd be lying if he thought an opportunity to be the team's starting left fielder would be presenting itself.
Across the clubhouse, legs up on a recliner, sat Michael Morse.
And since sitting is mostly all the Nationals slugger can do until the end of May, the left-field situation is fluid. Nady, Mark DeRosa and Roger Bernadina have seen time there. They're also struggling through slow starts.
"This is kind of a unique situation," said manager Davey Johnson, who expected to have at least two of the three on his bench with Morse healthy. "It's been kind of, 'Throw it up in the air and not feel real comfortable with it.' It's kind of a new thing for me."
Surely the decision would get easier for Johnson if the numbers looked better. Nady, who has played in 10 of the first 12 games and started seven, was hitting .194 (6 for 31) with one home run entering Wednesday night's game. DeRosa, who hit .457 during spring training, was at just .080. Bernadina, who started in center fairly regularly until Rick Ankiel returned last week, was 4 for 28 (.143).
For the most part, Johnson has been rotating Nady and DeRosa each day. When the team faces a left-hander, both play the corners, and Jayson Werth shifts to center. On a night like Wednesday, with the Nationals facing a right-hander who has dramatically worse splits against left-handers, Bernadina got the start over both veterans.
Johnson has been operating that way for a number of reasons. DeRosa is coming off nearly two full seasons in which he dealt with a wrist injury, and Johnson didn't want to push him to the point of aggravating it. Nady played in just six major league spring training games after signing late and still is trying to find his timing at the plate. If all things were equal, Johnson said this week, DeRosa would be his starting left fielder after the spring he put together.
But they're not. Instead, the manager is waiting for the players to "dictate who's going to get the bulk of the playing time."
It's not an opening that has gone unnoticed.
"We've got an opportunity to produce and be more of a factor than what everyone anticipated," Nady said, glancing across the way at DeRosa's locker. "Obviously, we talk a lot, both being the guys who bounce around out there. And we're both struggling right now. We're trying to keep each other sane right now, it's difficult."
There have been brief moments of relief for all three.
Nady homered in the eighth inning Friday night, a solo shot to left in what would be a 2-1 win over the Reds in 13 innings. Bernadina has worked two key walks, and come around to score, on this homestand. DeRosa was 1 for 2 last Wednesday against the Mets with three walks, his first offensive contribution of the season.
"It's frustrating, no doubt, especially coming off the spring I had," DeRosa said. I felt like I was really seeing the ball well."
Those moments have been few, but so is the sample size with the season just two weeks old. And while Nady and DeRosa insist they are progressing with each game — or even each at-bat — it's still tough for them to look at the scoreboard each night and see the ugly averages.
"It's not from lack of chances or opportunities," Nady said. "Even as a team offensively, we're not swinging the bats the way everyone's capable of. You can't really get caught up too much in it, but at times it's hard because it's your job. And you want to be productive when you get an opportunity.
"We've played this game long enough and had some productive years where we know what we're capable of, and that's the frustrating part."
As for those ugly numbers? It's just best not to look right now.
"Hey, if you get four hits, your average goes up 50-75 points," Nady said.
NOTE: Right-hander Chien-Ming Wang threw 35 pitches in a simulated game Wednesday without issue. Wang will begin a rehab assignment in five days with a three-inning start at one of the Nationals' affiliates.
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